Sunday Read: Ending the misery of low pay

Low pay is widespread in Ireland and particularly widespread in the industries organised by the SIPTU Services Division.

Many workers in the hospitality, contract services, wholesale, retail, arts and entertainment industries are categorised as ‘low paid’, which can be classified as being paid below the living wage of €12.30 per hour.

We have a minimum wage of €10.20 per hour in Ireland, that is the minimum rate of pay that all workers should get under the law. The majority of workers on the minimum wage struggle to make ends meet.

Even during this current pandemic, members in some workplaces organised by the SIPTU Services Division have achieved, negotiated and agreed pay increases.

However, in many other cases, employers have refused to negotiate with members and their union representatives. In fact, some employers have taken aggressive action in refusing to recognise their workers’ right to collectively bargain.

Ireland lags behind other European states in legally ensuring workers have collective bargaining rights. There is a strong link between a lack of collective bargaining rights and low pay. Where workers have collective bargaining, they have better pay, better terms and conditions and better living standards.

The lowest paid workers in our country suffered the most during the last recession and have been the hardest hit in this pandemic.

Many of these workers have been recognised as essential workers and have continued to work during the pandemic under difficult and stressful conditions keeping our hospitals clean and safe, serving us in shops, keeping shelves stocked and delivering food and other goods to our doors. Yet many of these workers are on low pay and have precarious working conditions.

Over the past twelve months, our members in the Services Division have had to struggle with employers to achieve some pay increases. Surely after all that workers have been through, the Government must honour its commitment to a living wage contained in the Programme for Government agreed between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party.

SIPTU is also working at the international level to push for an end to low pay.

The European Commission launched a proposal for a directive on adequate minimum wages and collective bargaining across the EU in October 2020.

This proposal aims to ensure that workers in the EU are protected by adequate minimum wages which allow for a decent living.

SIPTU has made a submission to the government on the proposed directive, which can be viewed here and is heavily involved in the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) campaign for the speedy implementation of the directive.

The EU directive may, in time, prove an important means of achieving a threshold of decency for all workers in Ireland.

This article was written by Teresa Hannick, SIPTU Services Divisional Organiser.

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