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Sinn Féin and UNITE Demand Government Accept Bill on Collective Bargaining

3 June, 2008

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Workers Rights, Arthur Morgan TD and UNITE's Regional Secretary for Ireland, Jimmy Kelly today jointly launched a Sinn Féin bill to provide for the right to collective bargaining and mandatory trade union recognition. Speaking at the launch Arthur Morgan called on the Government to accept the bill saying that there was a clear demand from Unions, including UNITE, SIPTU and the TEEU, among others, for such legislation. Morgan attacked misleading claims that the Charter of Rights appended to the Lisbon Treaty delivered these rights.

Arthur Morgan said

"I am delighted to be joined by Jimmy Kelly, the leader of one of the country's largest unions, UNITE, at the launch of this Twenty Ninth Amendment of the Constitution Bill. This Bill seeks to enshrine the right to trade union recognition and collective bargaining in the 1937 Constitution.

"There is a clear demand from the trade union movement for legislation to protect the right to collective bargaining and to provide for the mandatory recognition of trade unions. Without such protections unions cannot act as they need to in order to protect terms and conditions of employment and to resist the downward pressure on wages. Last Friday SIPTU added its voice to those of UNITE and the TEEU in dismissing deeply misleading claims that the Charter of Rights appended to the Lisbon Treaty can deliver these rights in the absence of domestic legislation. That some parties have attacked unions for making this crucial demand on behalf of their members at this time is reprehensible. By accepting this Bill the Government can meet the demands of unions and ensure that Irish workers have the rights merely aspired to in the Charter.

"There is no question but that the attitude of workers and trade unionist have been hardened by the failure to protect pay and conditions and enforce labour law when our labour market was opened to workers from the accession states. Unions have a job to do and that involves protecting and improving the rights of workers. Without question the absence of the right to collective bargaining and mandatory trade union recognition impedes the ability of unions to do this.

"While Government acceptance of this Bill would be a progressive step for workers rights Sinn Féin does not share SIPTU's view that Government acceptance of such legislative change would be sufficient reason to support the Lisbon Treaty. Sinn Féin remains firmly of the view that the Lisbon Treaty is bad for workers and has serious implications for public services. On this basis we are urging all workers and trade unionists to reject the Treaty and vote no on the 12th June.

"Sinn Féin will be working with the trade union movement in campaigning for constitutional change to guarantee the right to collective bargaining and trade union recognition. The Government must accept this bill." ENDS

Explanatory note regarding trade union recognition rights at present:

At present trade union rights are covered only in an extremely limited way under article 40.6.1 of the 1937 constitution, which guarantees the right to form associations and unions. Essentially what exists is only freedom of association and disassociation, and a voluntarist approach to trade union recognition.

Where a worker chooses to exercise her or his constitutional right to join a trade union, the employer is not under any obligation to recognise and negotiate with that union. A trade union - even one which holds a negotiating licence- cannot claim a constitutional right to recognition for negotiating purposes. Nor will its members have a right of industrial action if the trade union is not recognised. The reality is that employers will give such recognition only if they believe it to be in their interests or if they are legally required to do so.

Contrary to suggestions at the time of their introduction the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001 and the Industrial Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004 do not provide for trade union recognition at all, but only set out options for trade unions that have been refused recognition by employers. Where employers are determined to stay non-union, therefore, the law as it stands does not greatly assist workers. This was proven in 2005 when IMPACT and the Irish Airline Pilots' Association applied to bring Ryanair before the Labour Court under the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001, and the Court found that the Acts did not require Ryanair to negotiate with trade unions and could not be used to enforce trade union recognition against an employer.

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