We can't allow workers to be taken advantage of as the recovery kicks in - Ged Nash ahead of Dunnes Stores rally
Published 06/06/2015 | 02:30
I'm very conscious that far too many workers go to bed on a Sunday night knowing when the next bill is due, but not knowing if their pay packet will contain enough to pay it.
Many of these workers are on low or zero-hour contracts, so their employer can change the hours that they work on a week-to-week basis.
How can a family plan for their immediate needs, never mind the future, when they have no guarantees of what income they will have? How can you organise childcare? And, let's face it, the majority of workers facing these types of precarious working hours are women.
People like the Dunnes Stores workers who are taking to the streets of Dublin today, with their supporters, to protest over work practices.
I support the Dunnes workers and others in similar positions. I believe that workers are entitled to basic security in their employment, in order to plan their lives.
For those of us in the Labour Party, the basic requirements for a decent working life must be maintained. Employment policy must always strike the right balance between enterprise's need for flexibility and adaptability with a worker's right to job security - to a basic level of predictability in the terms and conditions of work. That's what I am working to achieve in Government.
I have commissioned research from the University of Limerick on zero and low-hour contracts and expect that report to be presented to me by the end of the summer. It will crucially fill the information gap that we have on the extent and impact of such contracts.
Although it is early days yet, all the indications are that we have a growing problem and that the legislation we currently have, the 1997 Organisation of Working Time Act, does not offer adequate protection.
To be fair, when this law was drafted nearly 20 years ago, who could have envisaged how the world of work would change? Much of our employment protection law is based on the traditional work models: full-time, continuous employment, under a contract of indefinite duration and with standardised working hours.
There are a growing number of people in much more precarious employment. By this, I mean non-standard employment that is poorly paid, insecure, or outside our employment protection laws.
For me and my colleagues in the Labour Party, the guiding principle is that work is never just another commodity or another input in a firm's productivity equations.
Making work pay is a cornerstone of our agenda. That is why we set up the Low Pay Commission to advise Government on the appropriate rate of the National Minimum Wage and other matters related to low pay.
I am also bringing in new industrial relations laws to re-balance the interests of workers and employers. We are providing a new mechanism for workers who want to improve their terms and conditions where there is no collective bargaining.
They will be able now to advance their claims and have these independently decided, based on comparisons with similar companies. And they will be guaranteed there will be no victimisation.
Crucially, any determination made on pay and conditions can be enforced through the Circuit Court. This legislation will be brought to the Dáil next week and I expect it to be passed this summer.
When it is enacted, this collective bargaining legislation could be used by the Dunnes Stores workers to advance their claims, should the company continue to refuse to engage with them.
Work is about livelihoods. It is about being able to plan for a future, a mortgage and a family. At its core, it is about dignity and respect.
So now, as the economic recovery takes hold and as unemployment continues to fall, we cannot tolerate a recovery which is based on a ruthless race to the bottom by business, at the expense of their employees.
Of course, it goes without saying that the majority of employers value their employees. Most firms invest in their staff. They recognise the benefit of a cohesive and integrated workforce and of avoiding needless employee 'churn'.
But it's clear not all businesses do. Many workers are encountering these new terms and conditions like the zero or low-hours contracts.
Erratic hours and pay like this produces massive insecurity. These, frankly perverse arrangements, are aimed at downgrading the status of employment.
Dealing with a phenomenon of this scale - protecting Irish workers against the casualisation of their jobs - will require more than just a quick-fix legislative amendment, aimed at resolving the Dunnes Stores dispute.
The unemployment rate has reached its lowest level in six years. Tax takes are significantly ahead of schedule and the economic future is looking much brighter.
That is, in the main, because of the sacrifices the Irish people have made and the tough choices we in Government have taken to overcome the crisis.
We are now at the start of a proper economic recovery because of this remarkable collective effort.
I want everyone to experience the benefits of the recovery.
We are helping people get back to work, with more than 100,000 jobs created since the Government took office four years ago, the vast majority of which are full-time jobs.
But, as Minister for Business and Employment, I want to ensure that these are good jobs which help families to secure their futures, not just take them off the dole queues.