July 23rd: Unite this morning hosted a seminar on precarious work entitled Strategies to End Precariousness: The Case for Decent Work. The event was chaired by Uplift Director Siobhan O’Donoghue and NIPSA General Secretary and ICTU President Brian Campfield. The programme and a full list of speakers is available for download here. Below are extracts from some of the contributions.
Opening the event, Unite’s Ireland Secretary Jimmy Kelly said:
“The growing scourge of precarious work pits workers against workers in a labour market which is dragging down terms and conditions. This creates a race to the bottom for which we all pay: Precarious work is a drain on our society and economy”, Jimmy Kelly said.
Referring to Dunnes Stores, where 76 per cent of workers are on part-time flexible contracts according to a survey conducted by Mandate trade union, the union’s Assistant General Secretary Gerry Light said:
“We must not allow precarious work to be confused with and justified on the basis of the need for normal and reasonable workplace flexibilities. There is no acceptable economic or rational imperative as to why Dunnes use precarious work practices except to preserve and grow already existing excessive profit levels”, Gerry Light said.
Grainne O’Toole, Workplace Rights Coordinator with the Migrant Rights Centre, said:
“The extent of precarious jobs across all sectors is staggering. Many migrants like other workers are trapped in low-paid, flexible jobs earning below minimum wage. They are just surviving not thriving. Strong laws are needed to protect workers and enforce rights. All workers need the strength of the labour movement behind them to tackle the gross inequalities that persist in an increasingly flexible, deregulated labour market”, Grainne O’Toole said.
Tom Fitzgerald, Unite Regional Officer for Construction, said:
“It is clear from the data presented today that there is tangible evidence to support out day-by-day experience that self-employment is on the rise in the construction industry, and that the regulatory structure is configured to allow that to increase. There seems to be a policy objective on the part of government to turn the construction industry into a self-employed zone”, Tom Fitzgerald said.
Orla O’Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council, said:
“The position of women workers has deteriorated in recent years, the gender pay gap has widened and there is a 35% gender pay gap. There are more women working in precarious employment, who do not know what their working hours will be from week to week. For NWCI Zero hour contracts provide neither the security of regular employment nor the freedom to manage life according to your own needs. They place women workers under extreme pressure, as they are unable to plan their lives and can only live day to day”, Orla O’Connor said.
Esther Lynch, Legal and Social Affairs Officer with the ICTU, said:
“There is such an imbalance in the bargaining power of workers in some sectors that employers know they can offer jobs and terms and conditions on a take it or leave it basis.
“What these jobs have in common is a combination of unfair terms inserted into the employment contract. One of the strategies we are discussing is the role of law in addressing the imbalance by supporting workers to organise in unions and by making unfair terms, such as zero hours practices, unlawful in employment contracts”, Esther Lynch said.
Professor James Wickham, who is directing TASC’s Working Conditions in Ireland project, said:
“In the USA, the UK and Germany bad jobs and in particular precarious work was expanding before the crisis. The same was true of Ireland. So we can’t assume that an economic recovery will solve the problem by itself. Furthermore, many jobs combine low pay with limited and/or irregular hours. So just raising the minimum hourly wage doesn’t fully tackle the problem of low pay. It is no longer true that any job is better than no job at all. For most people work still is important to their identity and their sense of self-worth. Today many employers are increasingly organising work in ways that destroy this. Decent work is only ensured if employment is properly regulated and if trade unions are strong enough to restrain employers”, Professor Wickham said.