Anthony McIntyre was in the Dail last Thursday.
Last week, not for the first time, I found myself in Dail Eireann or Leister House as the more purist term it. Local man Senator Ged Nash was giving a briefing on the Industrial Relations (Joint Labour Committees) Bill 2019, which he is seeking to enact through a Private Member's Bill. It is due before the Seanad on the 27th of November.
The importance of the Committees is that they can lead to the creation of Employment Regulation Orders which are then adopted by the Labour Court and signed off on by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. "Employers are then obliged to pay wage rates and provide conditions of employment not less favourable than those set out."
JLCs already exist and their function is to “set minimum conditions and rates of pay for low paid sectors of the workforce including for those working in the security and contract cleaning sectors.” They cover around 200, 000 employees. Employers nevertheless have been trying to hold the line against further encroachments on their profit and up to now have been determined to ensure that the hotel and hospitality industries are JLC free zones.
On the way into the briefing I stopped to talk to Ged Nash, having previously met him during last year’s presidential election at the count centre in Dundalk. Then I had been up on behalf of Atheist Ireland, monitoring the count in the Blasphemy referendum He is a very well informed man and in command of the detail so I did not waste the opportunity to seek advice from him on issues that arise in the retail industry and which threaten the livelihood and job security of employees.
It was a well attended event and if the politicians present reflect the trend then the bill might well be advanced. Fine Gael of course will oppose it.
One of the speakers SIPTU Sector Organiser, Martin O’Rourke, said:
While JLCs are currently operating well within the contract cleaning and security sectors other workers are being denied this simple protection from a race to the bottom. However, employer organisations have blocked the operation of the JLCs in other sectors. They do this by refusing to participate in the process of discussion with trade unions on what should constitute the minimum standards and pay rates in the sector. This has resulted in low wages, poor working conditions and exploitative business practices. The private members’ Bill introduced by Senator Nash will, if enacted, remove this veto and allow the JLCs to operate as the Oireachtas intended. It would allow the Labour Court to make its own binding proposals in sectors where either the employee or employee representatives refuse to engage in the JLC.
It is with a sense of irony that upon crossing the road from Bus Aras and walking by the statue of James Connolly, we are reminded that the bosses' way of remembering Connolly is by forgetting him. A Republic of Labour was never something they valued as a worthwhile political objective. Many employers still refuse to recognise trade unions, and some are in continuous flagrant violation of Labour Court rulings affording employees the right to registered trade union representation at disciplinary hearings. Lidl is a particularly bullish frequent offender in this regard.
While there may be little of Connolly's revolutionism in the proposed JLC Bill, as a reformist step it inches things the way of the employee and away from the employers. The hospitality industry is an inhospitable industry for many of its employees. As chef Martin Murga told Thursday's Dail gathering:
The pursuit of profit pits worker against worker, good employer against bad employer. Such a process leads to ever declining pay and conditions in a sector. This adversely impacts on workers and customers. JLCs are the best way to ensure that the race to the bottom is ended and this proposed new law will help them function better.
There is something of Louis Sachar about the Nash Bill. "It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward."