Remarks delivered at Unite seminar on collective bargaining

unite-white-out-of-redMay 10th: Giving the closing keynote at today’s seminar on collective bargaining organised by Unite the Union, Congress General Secretary Patricia King said: 

“There is a clear and direct causal link between low pay, deepening inequality and the absence of Collective Bargaining rights for workers in this State. With just under 70% of earners in this economy earning at or below the average industrial wage it is hardly surprising that we have an ongoing problem with income inequality, albeit one disguised by the State effectively subsidising low wage employers  through the social welfare system. Establishing the fundamental right of workers to collectively bargain without fear would act as the single greatest counterweight to this imbalance and would be the most effective weapon in the battle against wider social and economic inequality.”

Opening the event, Unite Regional Secretary Jackie Pollock highlighted the need to futureproof the economy against the impact of Brexit and said: 

“Until Ireland has collective bargaining legislation which complies with ILO conventions and definitions – and with the rest of the European Union – workers will remain at an institutional disadvantage.  And the wider economy and society will continue paying the price. Conversely, as we face into all the uncertainties of Brexit, strong workers’ rights and collective bargaining institutions can help strengthen the economy to withstand the inevitable shocks”.

Outlining the current situation regarding collective bargaining in Ireland, and focusing on the 2015 Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act, Dr Tom Turner of the University of Limerick said: 

“From an analysis of the recent Industrial Relations Amendment Act 2015 we conclude that the Act represents a missed opportunity and, though an improvement on previous attempts, offers relatively limited mechanisms to secure rights for unions and their members capable of delivering collective bargaining to the non-union sector. The form of intervention facilitated by the Act does not conform to the accepted ILO definitions of collective bargaining and fails to facilitate union representation in the workplace”.

Professor Roland Erne, Jean Monnet Chair of European Integration and Employment Relations at UCD, spoke about European industrial relations after the crisis, and noted that: 

“Since 2014, Irish labour unit costs fell dramatically by over 20 per cent, even if the EU would have allowed a 9 per cent increase over the past three years. It is therefore high time that Irish workers get their share of the recovery”.   

Paul MacFlynn is an economist with the Nevin Economic Research Institute and spoke about the economic benefits of collective bargaining, pointing out that:

“The economic benefits of collective bargaining for workers are clear; better pay, improved terms and conditions and a voice in their workplace. However, these benefits extend to firms as well. Transient, worried and demotivated workers are not productive workers. An organised workforce is also a coordinated workforce and one that is ready to meet challenges of investment and innovation. Collective bargaining therefore has both micro and macro-economic benefits. Recognizing this is key to building the next phase of productivity enhancing growth”.

SIPTU Deputy General Secretary Ethel Buckley looked at how collective bargaining can help address the gender pay gap, noting that:

“The women’s movement in Ireland is united and organising in unprecedented ways to repeal the 8th so that women can have equal access to healthcare services in this country. The challenge and opportunity for the trade union movement is to convince these women to organise for equal pay for work of equal value. Anti-discrimination laws haven’t worked; women organising to collectively bargain their wages is the best route to equal pay”.

Speaking during a panel discussion on ‘Making Workers’ Voices Heard’, Edel McGinley, Director of Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, recalled that:

“Ireland ratified ILO Convention 189, Decent Work for Domestic Workers in 2015. This was an extremely important Global and National campaign to give rights and recognition for this work. Domestic workers in Ireland came forward to tell their stories and worked collectively to ensure Ireland led the way on ratification. This campaign was led by domestic workers with the support of MRCI, ICTU and SIPTU”. 

Speaking on the same panel, Unite Regional Coordinating Officer Richie Browne said that:

“The 2015 legislation provided the trade union movement with some additional tools to advance workers’ rights.  This is reflected,  for example, in the Sectoral Employment Orders recently achieved in the construction sector. At the same time, however, it has not been possible to obtain similar orders in sectors such as archaeology, where abuses remain prevalent.  Unite will continue making full use of the 2015 Act and other legislation on behalf of our members, while at the same time lobbying for full collective bargaining rights in compliance with ILO and other international norms”. 

Gerry Light is Assistant General Secretary of Mandate trade union, and also highlighted the need for statutory collective bargaining rights, pointing out that:

“Growing evidence based mainly on the behaviour of an increasing number of employers’ shows that the voluntarist model of industrial relations does little to advance the cause of workers, in fact as currently practiced it has the opposite effect. What we need is statutory collective bargaining rights that allows workers and their chosen Union the opportunity to fully vindicate their collective power at the negotiating table. However, new laws in themselves are not a replacement for and do not remove the constant need for the Union movement to effectively organise”.

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