Right to join trade union would help tackle income inequality

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD
11 March 2020

A legal right to be represented by a trade union would help tackle low pay and free-up public money to invest in high-quality housing, health, education and childcare, according to Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.

He was speaking today (Wednesday) at the launch of a major study on inequality in Ireland, by the left-leaning think-tank TASC, which says that “greater worker protections, such as collective bargaining, would help reduce wage inequality.”

The Labour leadership contender also highlighted the report’s finding that Ireland had a “transfer rich, service poor” welfare system, in which the publically-funded social welfare system is the main vehicle for tackling income inequality caused by low pay.

The report, The State We Are In: Inequality in Ireland 2020, by Robert Sweeney, finds that inequality in Ireland is mostly driven by wage inequality, and that Ireland has high levels of income inequality before taxes and State transfers take effect.

The Dublin Bay North TD said: “In other words, this important report finds that public money, which should be supporting decent housing, health, education, childcare and public transport for all our people, is instead subsidising low-paying employers.”

He said Labour should tackle the problem head on by:

• Legislating to break the employer veto on the right to be represented by a union, with a campaign to amend the constitution if necessary

• Formally linking the statutory minimum wage to two-thirds of median hourly earnings, which would see the national minimum wage increase from €10.10 an hour to €11.25 next year,

• Legislating to require employers to publish details of their gender pay gap as a first step towards improved gender pay equality, and

• Reinstating town councils, and running local campaigns to designate Irish towns as “living wage towns,” as has successfully been done in the UK.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said it was not acceptable that 25% of workers in this country were on low pay, or that 40% of workers aged under 30 were in so-called atypical work.

“This combination of low pay and insecure work condemns our young people to a world where paying the rent is a constant struggle, and owning a home is beyond their dreams. Where the cost of childcare means having a family is a distant prospect. Where a holiday, a new coat for the winter, or sometimes even food on the table is a tough ask.

“That’s why the first thing I will do, as leader of the Labour Party, is legislate to break the employer veto on negotiating with workers. We will enshrine in law the right for all workers to be represented by a trade union, and an obligation on employers to engage with that representation.

“And if this is deemed unconstitutional, we will build a movement in support of a referendum. We will change the constitution to ensure that it’s not just a constitution for the people – but that it’s also a constitution for the worker. Labour will lead the argument with our colleagues in the trade union movement, and we will win.”

ENDS

Further information: Bernard Harbor – 087-230-1262

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