A High Court decision on 7 July has upheld fast food employers’ claim that legislation relating to the catering Joint Labour Committee is unconstitutional and breaches employers’ property rights. This is a very serious development not only for hundreds of thousands of workers affected by sectoral wage agreements but for workers across all sectors of the economy.
Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton has indicated that interim protection will be introduced until the autumn, but workers can’t afford to have any faith in measures introduced by a Minister who is, by his own admission, out to neutralise the entire REA/ERO system. Employers will see the court decision as a green light to decimate wages and conditions.
According to bosses’ organisation IBEC, “Unregulated sectors of private sector employment have not seen a substantial reduction in basic pay rates for existing workers since the start of the recession. However, pay rates for new workers have fallen by between 20% and 30% over recent years. This is evidence of a flexible labour market responding to an economic and unemployment crisis. It is essential that all sectors of the labour market are provided with the flexibility to respond in this manner in order to support efforts to get as many people back to work as possible.” (www.ibec.ie)
These words clearly spell out the intentions of employers to undermine wages and conditions across the entire economy with the lowest paid and most vulnerable workers at the sharp end.
IBEC and the government have rubbished what they call the “erroneous belief that these separate proposals (abolition of JLCs and neutralising of REAs) would not have a positive impact on the level of employment in the economy”. But have failed to produce any credible evidence in support of their claims. In reality massive pay cuts will undermine hundreds of thousands of workers’ spending power, further threatening small businesses and accelerate the race to the bottom.
Minister Bruton’s own stated intention was to have proposals to neutralise or abolish sectoral agreements finalised by the end of June but has been forced to push them back until the autumn when legislation is planned to be put before the Oireachtas.
Some Labour Party TDs, under pressure, have stated that they are uneasy about the proposals and there has been talk in the media of splits in the cabinet. But after a meeting with twenty three “concerned” Labour TDs and Senators on 23 June, Minister Bruton could say that he was confident of their support when the legislation was brought forward.
On 21 June, Socialist Party TD Clare Daly put a motion to the Dáil on behalf of the United Left Alliance and a number of other technical group TDs condemning any proposal to attack rates of pay or conditions and calling on the government to abandon their plans. Addressing the Labour deputies in particular, putting it up to them to nail their colours to the mast on way or the other, Clare said, “every member has a vote on this issue and it is quite simple: if one is against attacks on the wages of the lowest paid, one will support the motion”.
Pressure must continue to be put on Labour politicians, exposing their refusal to defend workers. But neither this, nor the verbal opposition of trade union leaders will be enough to push back the government and employers. There is too much at stake. Workers must organise to defend their livelihoods and demand that the unions stand by the commitment made by SIPTU Vice President Patricia King to defend workers “by whatever means necessary, including recourse to strike action” in a campaign to derail the poverty pay agenda.