After workers have kept public services and the economy going – there can be no going back to exploitation
Workers need to unite to defend themselves from opportunist employers and secure improvements
In a speech marking International Workers’ Day, Unite the union Regional Secretary in Ireland, Jackie Pollock, expressed his thanks to the union’s activists, officers and staff on their huge efforts throughout the pandemic. He pledged that the union will continue defending workers in the face of opportunistic attacks from employers seeking to leverage the Covid pandemic as a way to attack jobs, pay, terms and conditions.
“The last year has been a very difficult one for us all. The Covid pandemic has challenged every organisation and workplace throughout the island of Ireland.
“Our members have been central to keeping public services and the economy going throughout this pandemic. This May Day, we also remember all the workers on the front line – from logistics to retail – who have continued doing essential work through successive lockdowns.
“Whether in the public or private sector, the contribution of frontline workers needs to be recognised by governments and a commitment made to afford them the pay they deserve.
“I’m very proud of the way in which our union – our officers, staff and most of all – our workplace reps – have responded to this challenge. It is difficult enough to be a workplace rep in normal times – but in a pandemic it has been even more challenging.
“I would also like to pay special tribute to our health and safety reps, who have been critical to ensuring that workplaces are Covid-safe – thus protecting not only their members but the general public.
“Unite activists are doing powerful work across Ireland, north and south. Whether it is organising the unorganised in hospitality and other sectors dominated by precarious working; squaring up to the growing scourge of bogus self-employment or fighting against the tactic of Fire & Rehire – our activists are leading to defend our class.
“The Covid pandemic has exposed, as never before, the absence of protections for workers. Whether that is precarious, low hours or zero-hours contracts; inadequate protections from redundancy; miserable levels of statutory sick pay or the failure to enforce basic infection controls at work. There can be no going back to such exploitation.
“Covid-19 has also exposed and reinforced existing inequalities. We know that many women have borne not only the economic brunt of the pandemic, but in many cases have also shouldered the burden of combining home schooling with remote working. We also know that members of minorities have been disproportionately exposed to both the virus of Covid-19 and the virus of exploitation.
“We hear a lot of promises about building back better – but the reality for workers is that they find themselves assailed by greedy and opportunist bosses seeking to use the pandemic as a springboard to launch attacks on pay, terms and conditions. Only through collective organisation and a willingness to stand up collectively to these attacks can workers defend ourselves from this onslaught.
“On this May Day we look forward in confidence. The rollout of vaccinations offers hope but we are still facing the prospect of major workplace outbreaks. There is no room for complacency – Covid safety is not a given in any workplace – union activists continue to have a vital role to ensure infection control protocols continue to be observed.
“In facing all these challenges, workers know that we always stand stronger when we stand together. In these difficult times that means redouble our efforts to secure the unity of working people – regardless of creed or colour. On this May Day – International Workers Day – let us reaffirm the truth of our union’s motto as we look forward in confidence – in our unity there is strength!”, Mr Pollock concluded.