SF & AAA-PBP choosing to play the man and not the ball on workers’ rights

31 May 2016

Worker’s Rights are at the core of what the Labour Party stands for and what the Labour movement is all about.  Only this morning I was out meeting workers in Oberstown youth detention centre who staged a four hour work stoppage to highlight safety concerns on their campus. The fight for workers’ rights goes on and whilst Government is the place to implement real change, we have an opportunity in this Dáil to shape change from the opposition benches also, through cooperation and alliance.


With this Motion, we are calling on the Government to prepare and introduce a legislative package which will build on what the Labour Party achieved in the last Government to strengthen worker’s rights.


The last Government had a difficult task to rescue our economic sovereignty and steady the ship. Despite budgetary constraints, Labour delivered in many areas but we also admit that we were unable to deliver as much of our agenda as we would have wanted in others.


However one area in which we unquestionably furthered a progressive agenda is in the area of workers’ rights. As pointed out recently by SIPTU President Jack O’Connor, Ireland was the only country in the OECD during the global financial crisis which actually improved legislative protection for its workforce.


Without Labour in Government including the work of Eamon Gilmore on getting Collective Bargaining on the agenda and the work of Joan Burton and Minister Ged Nash in delivering this and many other measures to strengthen workers’ rights, there would have been no progress made in this area at all. I do believe that without Labour driving this agenda, the minimum wage would still be €7.65 and the legislative architecture would be the same as Fianna Fáil left it in 2011.


Because of Labour in Government the minimum wage was raised twice, the campaigning zeal of Labour Youth ensured the concept of a living wage was placed firmly in the centre of the workers agenda. We brought in new collective bargaining laws and restored Registered Employment Agreements. Our collective bargaining legislation ensures a mechanism for workers, aided by a Trade Union, can advance claims about remuneration, terms and conditions and have these determined by the Labour Court based on comparisons with similar companies.


Former Labour Minister Ged Nash spearheaded the examination of the prevalence of zero hours contracts in the Irish Economy. He commissioned a comprehensive report by University of Limerick – “A Study on the Prevalence of Zero Hours Contracts among Irish Employers and their Impact on Employees”


The study examined the evidence of the prevalence of Zero Hours Contracts and so called “If and When” contracts. While both involve non-guaranteed hours of work, the main difference is that workers on zero hours contracts are obliged to make themselves available for work while those on “if and when” contracts are not contractually required to make themselves available for work.


In the four sectors examined in the study are, retail, hospitality, education and health, if and when hours and low working hours are prevalent in the accommodation/food and retail sectors and in certain occupations in education and health such as community care work, general practice nursing, third level lecturing and school substitution.


There are significant negative impacts for workers on “if and when” hours including:


  • Unpredictability of hours
  • Difficulties in managing work and family life
  • Unstable income and difficulties accessing financial credit
  • Contracts that do not reflect the reality of number of hours worked
  • Insufficient notice when called to work
  • A belief that employees will be penalised for not accepting work offered
  • Difficulties in accessing social welfare benefits.


The report also suggests recommendations to tackle If and when contracts and we commend these recommendations to the Government and ask the Minister to pursue a strategy which will deliver these recommendations.


When Labour were in Government, we prioritised workers’ rights. In opposition, with this Motion, it demonstrates that we continue to hold the strengthening of workers’ rights as core to what we stand for. When this Motion was circulated Sinn Fein were quick out of the blocks, very quick out of the blocks, not to support it. But instead they are advancing a counter Motion which is specifically designed to fail attacking Labour for “doing nothing” in the last Government. Nothing is further from the truth. Sinn Fein’s partisan approach to this important issue highlights that above all else, they value political positioning above making a difference.


We want to make a difference and I believe we did so in Government. The Cahill Duffy Review which Ged Nash spearheaded after the overnight shock closure of the iconic Clery’s department store is a substantial report which recommends law changes to ensure such callous treatment of workers cannot happen again. These laws need to be changed and I implore this Government to implement these recommendations.


We are looking for support for this Motion. We are seeking progressive, like minded Parties, Groups and Individuals in this chamber to see the value in this Motion and to vote for it tomorrow evening. Judging by the counter Motions from Sinn Fein and the AAA-PBP, they are more intent on playing the man and not the ball in this regard. And sothe street theatre of opposition Private members Business is set to go on as before. 

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