July 2nd: Seconding Motion 12 on precarious work during this afternoon’s debate on Employment Rights at the ICTU Biennial Delegate Conference, Unite Regional Officer for Construction Tom Fitzgerald said that, while the transient nature of construction work means that the whole sector can be characterised as precarious, “The worst expression of precariousness in the sector is forced bogus self-employment – where workers are forced to operate self-employed, when they are clearly workers and employees. We know that this impacts on a raft of workers’ legislative rights, the application of collective agreements, the application of sectoral employment orders and similar.
“It is Unite’s judgement, based on our experience, that the 33,000 workers identified as being ‘self-employed’ in the construction sector are in the main bogusly self-employed. This has obvious consequences for those workers themselves – consequences which may follow them into retirement – and also deprives the exchequer of hundreds of millions of euros every year”.
Speaking during the same debate, Colette Godkin, Secretary of Unite’s English Language Teachers branch, said:
“ELT is generally precarious employment, with teachers paid by the hour and hours which vary from week to week. Unfortunately, the ELT industry in Ireland has been characterised by employment abuses such as the overuse of fixed term and low-hour contracts, or no contract at all, no entitlement to sick pay, bogus self-employment and the targeting and harassment of union members. Some people have had their hours cut or even been fired for speaking up about these problems. These experiences will be familiar to workers in many sectors where precarious work is, or is becoming, the norm.
“The underlying intent of precarious employment is maximum flexibility for employers – and minimum rights for workers. As a result, for employees, fear is often at the heart of insecure employment. The fear of getting on the wrong side of the manager who decides your family’s budget from week to week. Fear of taking time off when you’re sick because you can’t afford not to be paid for those days Fear of not knowing if you’ll get enough hours this month to pay your rent and keep your home, and even the fear of not knowing if you’ll have a job next Monday. It’s hard to imagine what that relentless stress feels like unless you’ve experienced it. But everyone can imagine how the insecurity of precarious work harms workers’ mental and physical health, their financial resilience and their ability to take care of their families”.
Also speaking during the Employment Rights debate, James McCabe – Construction Branch Secretary – highlighted the fact that public contracts are regularly awarded to companies which refuse to engage collectively with their workers or with the State’s industrial relations machinery, and said:
“Companies which regard the state as a never-ending source of lucrative contracts while refusing to abide by the state’s industrial relations machinery, or to treat workers decently, should have the contract stream turned off. Rogue employers who choose to ignore our industrial relations mechanisms should be automatically precluded from tendering for public contracts. The state has massive spending power. It’s time it started using that power in the interests of workers”, James McCabe concluded.