The Magill File - November 1977

The Church's cheap labour; Workers against Wage Restraint and Charles Haughey


Pope Leo XIII's encyclical, Rerum Novarum, issued in 1891, stated 'that men should unite in associations and trade unions is to be welcomed ... Natural law grants the right to join particualr associations'. Vatican II's conciliar document, TheChurch Today states: 'among the basic rights of the human person must be counted the right of freely founding trade unions'.

However even today in Ireland it is the religious orders that are the employers most hostile to trade unions, and the most brazen exploiters of the unskilled worker.

Ireland's 1,060 religious houses and 3,729 religious schools employ an estimated 10,000 unskilled lay workers. This number has remained static for some time, largely because of the fall in religious vocaitons. The unskilled lay employees are generally gardeners, handymen, kitchen staff and cleaners.

None of the lay workers employed by the following religious orders are unionised: the Jesu its, the F ransiscans, the Carmel ites, the Christian Brothers, the Sisters of Mercy and the Dominicans. Three years ago an employee of the Dominicans in Newbridge sued the Prior for paying illegally low wages. At the time she received £6.50 for a five-and-a-half day week. She won her case, but the Dominican employees are still not unionised. A spokesperson for the Conference of Major Religious Superiors, which represents all Irish religious orders and congregations, had no information on unionisation and no idea of the standard pay rate for its unskilled labour. However, an ITGWU spokesperson estimated that wage rates in religious houses would be about 50 per cent below the national average, with an unskilled male worker getting about £25 per week and a female worker getting about £20 .

This situation was repeatedly 'justified' to us on the grounds that religious only employ socially disadvantaged people, and that anyway Brothers and Sisters, members of these orders, did similar work for nothing.

The trade unions have not been over active in their recruitment of these workers. The Irish Women Workers' Union has organised no workers in religious houses. The No. 15 Branch of the ITGWU, which deals with cleaners and kitchen staff, has organised these workers only in Bray. The ATGWU doesn't deal with workers in religious houses at all. The Workers' Union of Ireland has done most in this area. It has organised workers in De La Salle Brothers in Finglas and the St. John of God Brothers around Dublin, but even in these relatively insignificant cases, unionisation has occurred only because skilled and professional staff in these institutions were being unionised.

Donal Nevin of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (and also, incidentally, one of the National Committee on Pilot Schemes to Combat Poverty) told us that he had no information on unskilled workers employed by religious houses, adding that 'it wasn't really a problem.'

Workers against Wage Restraint


Central to its economic package is that wage increases will be kept to 5 per cent in the coming year. Already several unions have indicated that this isn't on. But now a Magill poll, conducted by the MRBI ltd. shows that 52 per cent of people in the wage earning groups are opposed to the restriction, although 50 per cent of the population at large are in favour. Not surprisingly, the farmers (F1/F2) were most in favour of the wage restriction presumably because they are least affected.

We asked the following question of a statistical sample of 623 adults, representative in terms of area, community, sex, age, maritai. status and class:

'The Government says that wages and salaries should not increase by more than 5 per cent over the next 12 months, if we are to control wages and unemployment. Which of these statements comes nearest to you r opinion:

Is necessary to   Is not necessary to   Increases should   No opinion     
keep increases    keep increases        be higher
below 5%          below 5%              regardless       

TOTAL   50   32   11   7     

Urban   48   33   12   7     
Rural   52   31   10   7     

18 - 24   41   38   14   7     
25 - 34   50   34   12   4     
35 -- 54   45   34   13   8     
55+   59   35   7   9 -     

S/E CLASS             
ABC 1   52   34   7   7     
C2DE   40   36   16   8     
F1/F2   62   25   7   6     

There seems to have been some shennanigans within Sinn Fein about the ending of the Portlaoise hunger strike last Spring. Daith i O'Connell's assertion at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis that the strikers ended their fast only because they had been wrongly informed that their leadership wanted them to stop, raises a few interesting questions. Who passed on the wrong information. Was it Bishop Kavanagh, or intermediary Michael Mullen, or did some sections of the Sinn Fein leadersh ip convey this message and later find it politic to deny having done so?

In our last issue we advised the Labour party to get rid of Brendan Halligan, but regrettably they have done the reverse. He is back in his own Svengali role, this time at the elbow of Frank Cluskey, who so far is proving even more indecisive than Brendan Corish. It was Halligan who had the gall to encourage the Labour party to demand a full independent enquiry into allegations of Garda brutality, when himself, and more directly, five Labour ministers were involved in the conspiracy to hush up what was going on. It will be remembered that the entire Labour Dail contingent voted against such a proposal just over a year ago, when the Emergency Powers Bill was being debated.

If Labour is notgoing to get rid of Halligan, well would they settle for ousting Barry Desmond? Without exception he has the capacity for being the most asinine TO in the Dail. He was humiliated for the umpteenth time by George Colley when the latter was summing up the debate on the setting up of the new Economic Department. Colley was making a wretched hames of trying to sound magnanimous about not wanting to run down Martin O'Donoghue in his state car when Desmond waded in with a series of minddbogglingly stupid interjections.

Mind you, he was hotly contested in the asininity stakes by Paddy Harte who managed to argue that emigration rates were a matter of opinion.

Charles Haughey: debonair, but not this much!

Charlie Haughey is unquestionably the most debonair of the new cabinet. Answering questions in the Dail last month he inadvertently answered the wrong question and when gibed about losing his touch he replied 'I've been out of practice.'

The lure of a £22,00 plus salary as European Parliamentarian is tempting all kinds of political rejects back into the political fray, including Paddy Cooney, Justin Keating, Michael O'leary and even Brendan Corish. However, the Labour hopefuls in Dublin are due for a surprise when Dr. John O'Connell announces to them that he is going to be a candidate and it is up to the Labour Party to decide whether he will run on its ticket or independently.

The Ceann Comhairle's chair is being looked upon with new awe recently as stories have circulated in Leinster House that a well known Fine Gael TO of the 'fifties and early 'sixties conducted an affair on it in the darkest night on time when a more convenient location couldn't be found.

The new head of the Department of Finance, Tom Coffey, has been installed in the least propitious of circumstances. He was appointed by the outgoing Government after it lost the general election. It was one of its most outrageous acts in its lame duck days, not indeed that Coffey was a bad choice, but the incoming Government should have been allowed to make its own choice for this most critical civil service post.

While Fianna Fail is now sensitive to disturbing working relations with the new chief of the bureaucracy, there are hints that Maurice Doyle, an assistant secretary in the Department might have got the job had the decision been left to them.

Though Martin O'Donoghue and George Colley practically copulated on the floor of the Dail at the end of last month to persuade the opposition that it was love not war between their two rival Departments, it hasn't been all sweetness and light. Seasoned Department of Finance bureaucrats have been playing civil service gamesmanship for three months now in an attempt to stifle the new Department. An amazing amount of committees have been set up to absorb the time of the officials of O'Donoghue's outfit, low salaries and poor promotional prospects are offered to anybody contemplating going over to Economic Planning and Development and queries from the new Department take an inordinate time to get answered by Finance. But they have met their match in O'Donoghue, who has been through it all before and maybe George and Charlie will find that they have met their match too. VINCENT BROWNE