Restaurant workers protest against attacks on wage and condition protections
The Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI) held a protest in Galway this afternoon against what it sees as attempts to cut the minimum wage in the catering industry.
The protest, which was organised by the MRCI founded Restaurant Workers Action Group, was held at 1pm outside Supermacs restaurant in Galway's Eyre Square. It follows on from the launch of the MRCI's campaign for the reform of Ireland's work permit system earlier this week.
Supermac's is part of the Quick Service Food Alliance (QSFA), and according to the MRCI it is leading industry efforts in challenging wage protections for its workers. According to the MRCI, restaurant owners and industry groups have been calling for a €1 per hour cut in the national minimum wage, a weakening of the standards laid out in the Joint Labour Committee (JLC) and a challenge to the right of the JLC to determine working conditions.
"[Supermacs] are not losing money," said Delphine O'Keeffe of the MRCI. "They are trying to squeeze the most vulnerable." Figures show that Supermacs saw its pre-tax profits quadruple last year. "[Workers] are already under pressure," said O'Keeffe. "Any more cuts would be disastrous."
This is the second such protest organised by the MRCI's Restaurant Workers Action Group. On 15 March, the group held a protest outside Supermacs on Dublin's O'Connell Street. Further protests may be planned if the QSFA continues in its challenges to the JLC.
Oktay Gencoglu, a restaurant worker in Naas originally from Turkey, said: "Restaurant workers are already suffering to support our families. Our hours have been cut and many of us have seen our wages cut too. Any more cuts would be disastrous for us. We are counting on the government to strengthen the JLC system and defend our wages."
However, QSFA chairman John Grace told Politico that there are no proposals in place to alter the current minimum wage. "We have never called for a reduction in the minimum wage," said Grace. "We are challenging the JLC...the way it is structured is unfair and it allows for an uncompetitive market."
Grace and the QSFA believe that current minimum wage legislation negates the need for the JLC, and the JLC's control over pay and employment conditions in the catering industry is "unconstitutional". However, Grace did say that if any fairer model was proposed he and his fellow QSFA members would be willing to listen.
Deirdre Lehn, who is co-ordinating the Restaurant Workers Action Group on the behalf of the MRCI, was unconvinced by Grace's statement. "The end result of [dismantling the JLC]...will be a reduction in the minimum wage," said Lehn. "The reality is that low wage workers are struggling every day...protections such as those set out by the JLC are essential."
The stand off between the two groups is certain continue as long as the QSFA maintains its legal challenge against the JLC.
More details on the protest are available from the MRCI website. It can be accessed here.