In this edition of Liberty, we highlight the extent and scale of pay increases and other improvements in working conditions for tens of thousands of SIPTU members across the country over recent weeks and months.
Workers in manufacturing, in services, transport and construction among many others in the private sector of the economy have benefitted from decent wage rises as well as enhanced terms of employment as a result of the vigorous pay campaign by SIPTU activists and organisers.
Similarly, activists promoting better pay and conditions through the Big Start campaign for educators in the Early Years Education and Care sector have achieved well deserved public and political support for their demand that the work of those looking after and teaching young children should be properly recognised and remunerated.
It goes without saying that the pay increases and other improvements for so many workers across the private sector, North and South, could not have occurred unless they belonged to a trade union.
It is a statistical fact that workers organised in trade unions enjoy an income premium above most of those that are not unionised.
As we explain in Liberty there are far too many, up to 450,000, workers in the country who are mostly not members of trade unions and who are forced into the modern-day slavery of precarious work. These include workers who are forced into low hour and ‘if and when’ contracts, bogus self- employment and jobs with little or no prospect of advancement or long-term security.
These precarious conditions make it difficult, if not impossible, for these mainly low paid workers to afford decent quality homes, whether purchased or rental, in the midst of a desperate housing crisis. It means they cannot obtain bank or other loans that can help them get into the property market leaving them to the vagaries of already heavily State subsidised landlords and vulture funds.
While our members in the private sector are making progress through the successful pay campaigns, others are fighting difficult battles against unscrupulous employers who are enjoying the fruits of the economic recovery without sharing them with the people who have made it possible.
The most notorious example in these past several weeks of glorious weather are the hoteliers and restaurateurs who are witnessing a business bonanza as tourists and domestic holidaymakers make the best of the sunny days.
These are the same employers who have benefited enormously from a VAT reduction from 13.5% to 9% over recent years yet refuse to pass on the super profits, estimated at €500 million per annum, many of them are making to their workers — the chefs, waiters, cleaners and other poorly paid staff who keep their businesses going.
Refusing to recognise the right of their workers to join a trade union which can negotiate on their behalf is not unique to the hospitality industry.
Unfortunately, there is no statutory right to trade union recognition in this jurisdiction and major obstacles remain to organising workers and achieving collective bargaining rights in the private sector.
There are currently a number of disputes across the country in which workers are seeking to obtain collective bargaining rights while employers are holding firm against them.
In some notable cases, errant employers will not even adhere to the basic industrial relations machinery established by the State to protect workers and their rights.
In Dublin Port, Scruttons- Hamilton, a company sub-contracted by Dublin Ferryport Terminals (DFT) to provide stevedore services has refused to accept an invitation by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to enter negotiations with SIPTU members on their claim for a 5% pay increase and an enhanced sick pay scheme, among other issues.
The company simply refuses to recognise the union even though more than half its employees are members of SIPTU.
In a dispute at the Lloyds Pharmacy chain, management has refused to engage with Mandate, which has more than 200 members across 50 stores and who have conducted five strike actions over recent months.
Instead, the company insists that it will only talk to its, inhouse, Colleague Representative Committee (CRC) on issues relating to terms and conditions of employment.
SIPTU members in Abvie, a multi- national pharma company in Cork are fighting a continuing battle after management refused to discuss pay and conditions of employment and, crucially, union recognition.
Similarly, Dublin based cash-in-transit company, GSLS, has refused to engage with the union, either directly or through the WRC, even though almost all of its 40 drivers have joined SIPTU over recent months.
The lesson in all of this is that in order to obtain any form of decent pay and conditions, at a time of rising prices, rent and the cost of living, workers must first join a union and then as Mother Jones said, “fight like hell” for their right to collectively bargain with their employers.