Hotel first to cut minimum wage
Workers claim owner told them to accept cuts 'to support the Government'
A major hotel group has become the first to try to cut the pay of workers on the old national minimum wage.
Housekeeping staff at one of developer Noel O'Callaghan's hotels claim he has struck them off the payroll for refusing to accept a wage reduction of almost €1 an hour.
The move comes despite assurances from Finance Minister Brian Lenihan that workers already on the minimum rate would not suffer an instant pay cut when the wage rate was cut earlier this month.
The Davenport Hotel was hit by strike action yesterday after workers on the old €8.65-an-hour minimum wage claimed management wanted to impose a cut of 86c an hour.
The pay cut would bring their hourly rate down to €7.79, just 14c higher than the new minimum wage rate of €7.65.
It is the first case of an employer looking for a pay cut to come to light since the national minimum wage was slashed by €1 an hour at the start of this month.
SIPTU condemned the cut in the wake of Mr Lenihan's claims that workers on the old rate were safe from cuts.
"I want to challenge the idea that persons already employed on the minimum wage will see their income drop automatically," Mr Lenihan said in the Dail last year.
"Anyone already working under a contract of employment that sets wages at or above the national minimum wage is entitled to continue to be paid those wages unless otherwise agreed between both the employer and the employee concerned," he said.
However, the Davenport Hotel workers claim they have been struck off the payroll because they would not "agree" to the cut.
More than 40 housekeepers at the hotel have accepted the new rate and signed new contracts, but five women from eastern Europe have refused.
They claimed Mr O'Callaghan called them to a meeting and told them they must agree to the cut "to support the Government".
The women said they were taken off the payroll the same day the reduction in the national minimum wage took effect.
They mounted pickets outside the hotel yesterday and handed flyers to passers-by.
It is understood that the hotelier is bringing in the same pay cut at other hotels in his group, including the Mont Clare, O'Callaghan St Stephen's Green, and Alexander hotels.
"I have no income and I live alone," said Regina Balciuniene, (51), whose daughter-in-law, Ingrida, also works at the hotel.
"I have some savings from a job I had before but only have one week's rent left.
"I can't get documents from the hotel that I need to sign on social welfare," she added.
The Department of Finance said there could be no change to an employee's contract that would reduce their pay without their consent, and any breaches should be reported to the Labour Court.
However, it did not comment on situations where employees "agreed" to cuts under threat of being struck off the payroll.