United we bargain, divided we beg – collective bargaining key to future of work in Ireland

30 April 2023

Celebrating May Day (Monday, May 1st), Labour Party spokesperson on workers’ rights Marie Sherlock has urged all workers to join a trade union.

Senator Sherlock called on Government to press on with the full transposition of the EU directive on adequate minimum wages which will provide a massive expansion in sectoral wage bargaining in Ireland.

Senator Sherlock said:

“The power of the collective means that being a part of a trade union gives workers the best possible chance to forge a fairer workplace, better terms and conditions and better protections for themselves and their colleagues at work. The wonderful breakthroughs by early years’ workers and by many private sector workplaces are a testament to this. But the appalling treatment meted out by some tech firms in recent months must be a wakeup call to all workers, no matter how highly paid – united we bargain, divided we beg.

“With the recent lay-offs in the tech sector, we are now seeing workers flock to unions because they recognise that they offer them the best opportunity to protect themselves against further cuts.

“Recent surveys have shown that young people in particular are positively disposed towards trade unions, but the reality is that Ireland remains an outlier within the EU with no right in Ireland to be recognised for collective bargaining purposes.

“Even Tory Britain has more advanced bargaining rights compared with Ireland.

“The recent Council of Europe report laid bare Ireland’s hostile environment to worker’s rights and particularly Ireland’s lack of full collective bargaining rights.

“The Council of Europe have identified nine policy breaches in which Ireland violate the European Social Charter. Many of these breaches are issues which have been the subject of sustained campaigning here by unions over many years, and include the sub minimum rates of the national minimum wage whereby adults aged 18 and 19 are treated like children for pay purposes, the lack of a right to switch off, recognition of afterhours work, I could go on.

“The EU Directive on Adequate Minimum Wages is due to be transposed by the end of next year, however there is a real concern that the current Government will opt to do the bare minimum and put in place sectoral bargaining frameworks.

“We know from the experience in the hospitality sector and other hostile workplaces, that workers need to have a right to organise in order to be able to bargain collectively. Ultimately, workers will only be able to secure decent and sustained improvements to their terms and conditions if they are organised.

“The Government must press on with the implementation of the full transposition of the EU Directive. The recommendations of the High-Level Working Group on Collective Bargaining published last year are critical to ensuring this.

“However the record to date of this Government does not give great cause of hope.

“Security is one of a small number of sectors which has a Joint Labour Committee established under law to collectively determine wages and conditions for the sector.

“The 16,000 workers in that sector were supposed to have a good news story with a new wage agreement last year but three tiny employers are blocking this through the courts and the Government have shamefully sat on its hands since last August and haven’t even bothered to turn up to court to defend the wage deal it was due to sign into law.

“The Government cannot kick the can down the road on this any longer. Employers must be required to engage with trade unions, and do so in good faith.

“We know from research conducted by Ireland Thinks that voters of all parties, including those on the right, are positively disposed towards collective bargaining. The political ambition for greater worker representation and collective bargaining rights is obvious among the electorate, and that must now be reflected by Government. There can be no delay in progressing workers’ rights in Ireland.

“As a party founded by and rooted in the trade union movement, the Labour Party has consistently advocated for workers’ right to collectively bargain with their employer and sectoral representatives for better pay and conditions.

“We are committed to working with the trade union movement and other stakeholders to rectify Ireland’s poor record, and we will continue to push the Government to protect workers and improve pay and conditions. We will not be satisfied until workers’ rights are fully realised as set out in international law. This begins by ensuring all workers are afforded representation and all employers are required to engage with the unions.”

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