Daly calls on Labour Party to resist attack on low-paid

On Tuesday, on behalf of the United Left Alliance and a number of members of the Dáil Technical Group, Clare Daly TD tabled a Private Members’ motion with regard to the proposed overhaul of the Joint Labour Committee system.

On tabling the motion, she described it as of “huge importance”, saying, “The wages and conditions of more than 250,000 workers are at stake.” She called on the Labour Party to vote against any proposal to "lessen [the] terms and conditions of the lowest paid in our society."

Her speech is below.

I have moved the motion on behalf of the United Left Alliance and some Members of the Technical Group and wish to share time with my colleagues. It is fair to state this is a motion of huge importance. The wages and conditions of more than 250,000 workers are at stake. This involves some of the most isolated and vulnerable workers in Irish society, including women, immigrants and young people in the main and, quite often, workers who find themselves isolated in small employments in which union organisation is limited. The little protection such workers have comes from the joint labour committee, JLC, and employment regulation orders, EROs.

Even with such protection, studies have revealed the extent to which the regulations are exploited. A study conducted by the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland in 2008 indicated that 53% of restaurant workers earned less than the minimum wage. Moreover, 44% of such workers did not get rest breaks, 85% did not receive additional pay for working on a Sunday and 85% did not receive overtime payments. An attempt is now being made to go even further than this and legitimise such exploitation, which is outlawed at present. Those Members who support the motion wish to send a signal to the Government to the effect that they will not allow this to happen. They believe it is an indictment of the Labour Party, in particular, that this is being carried out on its watch.

The issue must be seen in the context of the overall strategy agreed with the European Union and the IMF to drive down wages and conditions across the entire economy. Over the weekend Members will have had sight of the leaked document from the IMF that made it clear that the intention was for these agreements to not simply be reformed but scrapped. No matter how one dresses it up, that is what is at stake. The lessening of terms and conditions of the lowest paid workers in our society is on the table.

Behind this measure is the unrelenting propaganda to which we have been subjected to the effect that Ireland became uncompetitive during the boom and that labour market inefficiencies somehow have contributed to this loss of competitiveness. Although such sentiments are bandied about, they are untrue. Ireland was ranked 20th last year by the World Economic Forum and identified as having a well functioning labour market.

The other mantra one hears quite a lot is that high labour costs in Ireland have contributed to the high unemployment rate. Again, such statements are untrue. Nevertheless, the Minister has answered parliamentary questions in this regard in the Chamber. He has spoken of unemployment levels and a loss of employment of 60% and 15% in the construction and retail and wholesale sectors, respectively, but has followed on by stating high labour costs are a contributory factor to such unemployment figures. However, both reality and studies have disproved his statements and demonstrate clearly that he is wrong in this regard. Labour costs in the hospitality and wholesale and retail sectors in Ireland lag far behind the EU 15 average, both in respect of nominal pay and purchasing power. Hourly labour costs in the hospitality section in 2008, the latest year for which such studies have been undertaken, were 11.4% below the EU 15 average, while the figures were the fifth lowest for purchasing power. In the wholesale and retail sector, they were the sixth lowest for purchasing power and almost 11% behind the EU average. Moreover, costs in Ireland have since fallen even further, while wages in other economies have increased.

The point I make strongly is that the real agenda is not about protecting employment but transferring wealth from the lowest paid to wealthy employers. One can state categorically that unless these measures are abandoned, they will not lead to the creation of a single job. The targeting of such wages will lead to an increase in unemployment by reducing the volume of domestic demand, thereby having a further impact on the retail sector. This is incredibly short-sighted. When one considers the forces that have assembled behind the scenes to lobby and call for such measures, one gets a glimpse of what really is at stake. I suggest one looks at who is leading the charge for the so-called reform of these agreements. Up in the front row is the founder of the Quick Service Food Alliance, who is mounting a legal challenge to the JLCs, Mr. Pat McDonagh, owner of Supermacs. Poor Pat is finding himself struggling off the backs of these greedy workers who earn just marginally above the minimum wage and who have the audacity to seek to be paid time and a half for Sunday working. Despite the greed of these workers in their claims in this regard, Pat has managed to leap up to position number 68 in Ireland’s rich list, up from a position of number 139 in 2009. He has managed to increase his profits despite the fact that his revenue has fallen. He is already making a fortune off the backs of his workers and clearly, the agenda at stake is that it is not enough for him.

There are other examples such as the likes of John Magnier, with a personal wealth of almost €600 million and in receipt of significant subsidies from this State for his training industry. He is a tax exile who is bringing low-paid agricultural workers earning €9.10 an hour to the courts because he thinks their wage demands are excessive. The real agenda here is greed. It is a continuation of the policies which were activated in the course of the boom, a transfer of wealth away from workers into the hands of employers.

We have noted that over the past period there has been a certain attempt, maybe by some members of the Labour Party, and some members of the unions, to try to isolate these measures and claim they are the sole project of the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, and they have another agenda to say the Minister is going down one road but the Duffy-Walsh report is not really that bad and we will lean on it. Our attitude very clearly is that we will not fall for either of those measures. The Duffy-Walsh report also calls for reform of these committees and a reform of these agreements. Let there be no mistake, this is not an upward reform. They want to streamline the agreements and to attack the pay and conditions of the lowest paid people in society.

Studies by the Irish League of Credit Unions in Ireland reveal a situation where already, more than 1.2 million people in this country are surviving on less than €70 a month once they have paid their essential bills. To attack wages further is, in our opinion, absolute economic lunacy.

The Duffy-Walsh report calls for a radical overhaul of JLCs. Our position is clear. We will not stand by and we will not allow one cent, nor one condition, of the hard earned, hard fought battles by ordinary workers over generations to secure relatively decent pay and conditions to be overturned. This is a particular opportunity for the Labour Party and for the unions which went out and canvassed and lobbied their members to support the Labour Party in the attempt to cushion the Fine Gael blow. This is the first test on that measure. So far, the Labour Party has not done very well but its members have an opportunity tonight and tomorrow night to nail their colours to the mast. There are no more hiding places. If they are against the attacks on the wages and conditions of the lower paid, they will support the motion.