Monday, January 25, 2010

The Whip hand - eroding labour rights in response to the crisis.

Today is a day of fairly significant industrial action across the public sector.

Over 300,000 trade unions members are going to be involved in protest actions over the government cuts. This move has enraged the Health Service Executive which said its worried about the effect of any action on patient safety and services. Many many thousands across this country must be amazed to hear and I can attest that I am one of them. My locality is now done to a part time ambulance services. Little worry from the HSE or the govt. about patients or service then nor about the running of the HSE which is all Chiefs and few Indians.


The HSE attack on the very idea of even striking is one that's appealed to others it seems. The Irish Exporter's association wants air traffic controllers to have a no strike clause in their contracts. Famously in the US Regan took on and beat the Air traffic unions and then proceeded to continue with every other union.


And whatever about the merits or the demerits of any particular case the need for stronger union representation is more pressing than ever.

The Govt. is waiting to hear from the
Labour Court about the lowering of the minimum wage in the hospitality, retail and construction sectors. Mary Coughlan who rather laughably holds the brief for enterprise, trade and employment, says the lowering of the minimum wage in these sectors "would only apply where employees agreed to the measure in order to keep their jobs". Well that means pretty much every job then doesn't it. Still rather than apply pressure on wages at the top its more fun to do it at the bottom.


A perfect example was the recent rowing back on the pay cut, or should that be deliberate mess-up, of salaries of the top civil servants. Whose supposed pay cut was 15% but that pay cut was based on their base salary plus bonus and everybody who applied for the bonus got the bonus. As a result their salary cut is only a few per cent. Tough times at the top.


Share the pain is the principle at stake here and its what people want to see happen. As wealth is not shared then neither is pain though..   


While the need for Unions has never been more critical the unions have continued to decline in strength. The latest CSO figures for 2007 have only 31% of all employees reporting to be union members with that figure much higher for the Public sector than the private sector. Private sector unions now come courtesy of your HR division or Human Remains division as a friend of mine calls them.


The consequence of the crisis seems to be the deepening and empowering of FG/FF style politics here while in America the swing has been back to the centre if not to the left.     
But in the south we seem determined to ensure Sean & Sile citizen carry the can for the well heeled boyos. 
Sharing the pain should be the first thing they bring to the table, not further reductions in labour conditions for the bottom third. 



    Ogra have a good post on this on their site:

    Low paid and minimum wage workers are again in the firing line in the south following the announcement by the junior Minister for Labour Affairs, Dara Calleary, that he is to ammend the Industrial Relations Bill to include a "get out" clause which will allow companies in the hotel, catering and retail sector to claim an "inability to pay" the minimum wage.

    Ógra Shinn Féin completley opposes any move to reduce the minimum wage. Such an action would affect the most vulnerable in society by allowing them to be exploited by employers. A decision to allow businesses to pay under the minimum wage will also greatly impact on young people and students, many of whom take part-time jobs in the catering, fast-food and retail sectors to help them through third-level education.

    Pat Lynch of the Quick Service Food Alliance which represents fast-food outlets such as McDonalds, Supermacs and Subway said he estimated that 70% of the companies he represents would apply for an exemption claiming that food outlets have been put under "huge strain" due to the recession.

    This is at odds with the official figures which show that fast-food businesses actually gain in times of economic recession. McDonalds for example, had profits of $1.22 Billion in the last 3 months of 2009, up 23% on the same period for 2008, while Supermacs had a four fold increase in profits last year.

    The reality is that were such a clause to be brought in, it would undoubtedly be abused by companies to increase their profit margins. Once again Fianna Fáil has shown itself as a party for the rich who are not concerned at the effects such drastic legislation would have on the working class people of this country.

    Fianna Fáil need to realise that the solution to the current economic crisis will be found in a national job creation strategy, investment in renewable industries and improvement of our national infrastructure - the solution to the financial crisis will not be found through job losses and wage cuts.

  2. This action by the Unions according a mate of mine in Impact has no bearing on what the Unions did in the 80's. This is not a proper work to rule. The Unions are presently panderring up to the Government looking for some crumbs from the table.One can only hope that when the Branch elections of each Union come up, that this time local Union activists will punish those who have supped the devil's buttermilk from this Government that has no mandate for this type of
    unjustified action on the working class

  3. Good post and very good response.

    Remember too, all this wage cuting is done in the name of improving our international competitiveness. But fast food outlets aren't engaged in any international competition, no more are retailers or hoteliers; it's simply an opportunist case of boosting profits at the expense of workers.

    Anyone workers taking action in defence of jobs or against pay cuts deserves our fullest support.

  4. The hard part is creating an alternative message that people will buy into as credible and workable.

    Most ordinary punters will already accept this is unfair. They might fully agree with that, that it targets the weak.

    The problem is they believe it is necessary. People feel like these types of actions have to be taken in order for there to be an improvement.

    The focus must be on proving how this is unnecessary. Most people already believe it unfair so if we say its unfair they will agree but move on and leave FF off the hook.


    The Government is to allow the minimum wage not be paid in certain sectors of the economy.

    Legislation is to go through the Dáil that will allow an "inability to pay" clause be invoked in certain industries such as catering, hairdressing, retail and agriculture sectors.

    The Government said it will only be allowed happen when the majority of workers consent to it and the accounts of the business prove that it is in financial difficulties.

    Labour Affairs Minister Dara Calleary said the Government is responding to the economic crisis and the move is not aimed at driving down wage.

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  6. Good point about the McDonalds etc. What is the measurable contribution this cut to the minimum wage is supposed to make to competitiveness? Will the govt. even have an answer beyond a sound bite.

    Interesting to see how long a game the govt. plays. Back in February the Govt. were already laying the scene calling for the minimum wage to be reduced. They are very successful at setting the scene and then allowing their message to be carried by the media. 11 months later the min wage is effectively gone and there will hardly be a peep across the media. All because its necessary etc etc.

  7. agree gorra. governments pr is brillient. in dublin today and was passing the new irish times building, heading northside. on my right the irish times building all shinny and on my left there was a social welfare office across the road with a que out the door. powerful image. i know your not ment to shoot the messanger but what if, ha methaphoricaly speaking. thats where the real debate is. how does it work, it seems to be a minister makes an off the cuff remark then ecoonomists expands on it saying the hard decisioons need to be taken then some jouranists argue the line as gospel then the ministers come out and say it. wheres the weak link in that?