Labour Chairperson, Jack O Connor, calls for a Referendum to enshrine the Right to Representation at Work in the Constitution

16 June 2018

Speaking at the Tom Johnson Summer School, in Limerick, the Chairperson of the Labour Party, Jack O Connor, has called for a Referendum to enshrine the Right to Representation at Work in the Constitution. He also highlighted the dramatic co – relation between, precarious low- quality employment and reliance on rented accommodation, the cost of which is increasing rapidly, among younger workers. 

Mr O’Connor said:

“The very detrimental interaction between poor quality employment and the dramatic accommodation deficit faced by younger workers seems to be going unnoticed by public policy commentators. Statistics on the extent of poor quality jobs among young workers are difficult to obtain. The most reliable is probably the Eurofound study published in 2016, based on 2015 research. It concluded that an astonishing 46% of those under 35 were employed on “non- standard” contracts of employment. These figures did not include those in “permanent” but poorly paid jobs,. While things are improving in a rapidly recovering economy, they clearly have a very long way to go. 

“These young workers have no possibility of obtaining a mortgage, or in many cases even a car loan for that matter. It clearly must follow that they feature prominently among the now one third of households competing to rent their accommodation in a dramatically escalating price market. So, they are trapped in a cycle of misery, – exploited at work and ripped off at home! Yet, there is no recognition of the issue. There are no statistics which capture the pernicious interaction of these two phenomena notwithstanding its very detrimental implications for our young workers and the long -term impact on family formation. Worse, there is absolutely no intention whatsoever to research the issue,” he said.” 

“The quality of Public Services is unquestionably crucially important in determining the quality of life of the great majority of people from the cradle to the grave. However, the standard of the jobs in which people work is more important still. It determines a person’s income and their capacity to provide a home and found a family, as well as contributing to one’s personal fulfilment and access to opportunity.

“Education, skills, contacts and even sheer luck are crucial in determining the standard of one’s employment. However, for a huge proportion of working people, the right to engage in Collective Bargaining with their employer, or the absence of it is crucial. This is because it takes place at the point at which the benefits of output are distributed and very often where jobs are designed. “Non – standard” contracts of employment and “gig economy” type so called self -employment are often described as “new forms of work”. They are nothing of the kind. Instead they represent the return of the exploitative – work practices that characterised 19th century industrial society before the advent of the great General Trade Unions”, he continued. 

“Unquestionably, the emergence of the age of digitalisation presents enormous possibilities for humanity. However, it will be a very sorry place if the potential of this enormous possibility, is restricted to an ever diminishing minority of the super wealthy, while a huge proportion of society experiences only a diminution of expectation. Indeed, it is precisely the reflection of the consequent unease and sense of alienation and insecurity that is fuelling the shift to xenophobic nationalism across the developed world”, he added

“The process of Collective Bargaining provides people with a say in the distribution of output and the design of their job, which underpins the very quality of their lives.. Moreover, participation in Trade Unions and Staff Associations enables people to engage in the evolution of civil society, thus enhancing democracy. 

“Article 40.6.iii of our Constitution provides that one of the fundamental rights guaranteed to all is citizens is the right to form associations and unions. However, the Courts have held that this does not extend to include its logical corollary, effectively affording employers who refuse to engage a veto. Yet, the people have already endorsed the Principle in a referendum. It is specifically enshrined in Article 28 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights which is an integral component of the Lisbon Treaty, which was adopted in October 2009.

“Most EU countries uphold the Right to Collective Bargaining. Indeed many of them actively promote it. It hasn’t resulted in any loss of competitiveness, indeed the reverse, or of foreign direct investment either.

“It’s long past time we afforded working people parity of esteem in their own country, by proceeding with a Referendum to amend Article 40 to provide for a specific “Fundamental Right to Collective Bargaining.”

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