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Government mindset of facing down workers and unions is unacceptable - Mary Lou McDonald TD

12 November, 2016 - by Mary Lou McDonald TD


Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD has stated that "the government mindset of facing down workers and their unions is unacceptable.

She added that the Landsdowne Road Agreement has run-out of road and that the process for reaching a new agreement must commence.

Deputy McDonald made the comments earlier this afternoon in her address to the TEEU Biennial Delegate Conference in Portaloise.

She said;

"Governments have in fact collaborated in maintaining economic inequality and poverty. 

"The miserable increase of ten cent an hour on the minimum wage in the this years’ budget while insisting that politicians, ministers, the Taoiseach pocket increases starting at  €100 a week is just one example of the kind of double standards so beloved of mé féin politics and politicians. 

"Latest projections indicate FIS will be paid to more than 50,000 families in respect of 100,000 children this year. 

"These are working families for whom work does not pay.

"Low pay, precarious working hours and the chipping away of workers’ rights are bad for the economy and bad for society. 

 "The issue of equal pay for equal work is a fundamental one facing the public sector. It has led to industrial action on the part of teachers and Gardaí, with nurses and health workers being balloted as we speak.

"The government has no plan to address this issue outside of divisive sectoral  agreements with certain unions already within the Lansdowne Road Agreement. 

"Alarmingly, there is no commitment from the government to allow for equal pay for equal work across the public sector. 

"Separate to this is the issue of pay equality, currently there is no roadmap in place for fair and timely restoration. This needs to be in place before Budget 2018 is announced in October 2017.

"It is now clear beyond doubt that the Lansdowne Road agreement has run out of road. 

"It is now clear that the process of reaching a new agreement must commence.

"The government mindset of facing down workers and their unions is unacceptable. 

"We need conversation, negotiation not macho posturing. 

"Any new pay agreement must set out a road-map for the unwinding of FEMPI legislation. It must tackle in a cogent and coherent way the inequality created by FEMPI.

"The public sector needs to return to a single-tier pay system and that a new agreement should achieve equal pay for equal work."

ENDS

The full text of Deputy McDonald's speech follows:

I am very pleased and proud to speak here today at the biennial conference of the TEEU – the Power Union.

You gather in the year that we commemorate the bravery and vision of the 1916 rebels. The idealism and ambition which motivated the Rebels and which animated the Proclamation of the Republic, serves to inspire all of us who strive for the Republic one hundred years on. 

This proud union traces its origins to the Black and Tan war. Its forerunner the Irish Engineering, Shipbuilding and Foundry Trades Union was formed on 9 May1920 in the Abbey Theatre at a time of great social, political and economic upheaval.
 
It was a time of revolution, of hope and of vision. In the previous year of 1919, the first Dáil passed the Democratic Programme which set out very clear social and economic policies, a manifesto for the Republic.
 
“It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic” the document said, “to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training as Citizens of a Free and Gaelic Ireland.”
 
The First Dáil also committed itself to developing a robust “standard of Social and Industrial Legislation with a view to a general and lasting improvement in the conditions under which the working classes live and labour.”
 
These commitments set the parameters, the benchmarks for the realisation of a free and democratic Ireland, an inclusive Republic.
 
Where the real value of freedom and sovereignty could be, and would be, measured in the dignity and empowerment of the working classes, of Women, of Children, of Men – of the people of no property. 
 
These were then, and still are today, core republican values. 
They are values that I believe in and they are the goals that Sinn Féin works to achieve.
 
Although life is full of complexity, some things are very straightforward: they are either right or they are wrong. There is no grey area. 
 
The exploitation of workers on zero-hour contracts is wrong.
Bogus self-employment is wrong.
Cuts in public services in order to fund tax cuts for the wealthy is wrong.
Economic inequality and poverty are wrong. 
 
Instead of solutions, of resolute action, to right these wrongs, the political establishment offers excuses. 

And worse still, Governments have in fact collaborated in maintaining economic inequality and poverty. 
 
The miserable increase of ten cent an hour on the minimum wage in the this years’ budget while insisting that politicians, ministers, the Taoiseach pocket increases starting at  €100 a week is just one example of the kind of double standards so beloved of mé féin politics and politicians. 
 
The truth is that from 2008 to the present inequality and poverty have deepened. 
 
All of the reports that have been published on the issue of low pay by EUROSTAT, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, the Think-tank for Action on Social Change, TASC, and others show that over 20% of all citizens in the State are in low paid jobs. 
 
That means workers who do not have a living wage; it means working people who do not have money to pay basic bills and meet their needs.
 
It has long been the mantra of government and of parties of the right – the Fine Gael/Fianna Fail duo - that the answer to poverty and inequality is a job.
 
They have yet to acknowledge and articulate the truth;  that the pathway from poverty is decent work and decent pay.

Secure work and organised workplaces are the foundations on which decent work is built. That is why collective bargaining rights and trade union recognition matter. 
 
Over recent years there have been several high profile industrial relations conflicts: at Talk-Talk, Waterford Crystal, Game, La Senza, Lagan Brick, Clerys, Dunnes Stores and Vita Cortex. 
 
In every instance ordinary working people were shafted and not given the protection of the State. 
 
These disputes brought sharp focus on huge weaknesses in our industrial relations law. 
It is sobering to think that government inaction, indifference – a calculated indifference perhaps- means that such disputes can happen again. 
 
Despite all the hand wringing, all the crocodile tears, governments have failed to legislate to prevent tactical insolvencies such as the one that affected the Clerys workers. 
 
They have failed to deal with the prevalence of low-hour contracts and their exploitative nature which is driving under-employment and precarious employment in the State. 
 
And remember sisters and brothers, that women make up a huge proportion of the  ranks of those who live in poverty and “the precariate”, those in low paid, low-hour contract jobs. 
 
Nothing has been done that will prevent Dunnes Stores from treating its workers in the way it has, the exploitation of those on low hours contracts continues under the watchful eye of government. 
 
Having failed to act themselves, the government and its allies in Fianna Fáil, have faced down every attempt that we in opposition have made to secure workers rights. 
 
That is the real face of the new politics. Fianna Fail propping up a right-wing government and blocking workers rights to keep Enda Kenny happy.
 
Sinn Féin has brought forward legislation to deal with each of these issues – ending exploitation of low hour contracts, ending tactical insolvencies, collective bargaining and trade union right to access. 
 
For those that are interested these bills are called: theCompanies (Amendment) Bill 2016, the Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016, the Protection of Employees (Collective Redundancies) Bill, (2016) the Industrial Relations (Right to Access) Bill 2016. 
 
Competitiveness is the word, the concept, the get out clause argued by government to excuse the State from doing what it should - ensuring proper treatment for workers. 
 
The most competitive countries in Europe are ones in which there is decent work and pay and that have robust industrial relations laws and proper protections for workers. 
 
They do not build their economies on indecent work or low pay. 
 
They build them on strong wages, not poverty wages, and workers’ rights, not a denial of workers’ rights. 

That is what my party wants to see happen.
 
‘Keeping the Recovery Going’ got short shrift from an austerity weary people at the last election, and rightly so. 

Sinn Féin wants a fair recovery. That means decent work for decent pay. 

The bottom line is that work must pay.
 
In 2015, the Government spent a record €350 million subsidising the income of thousands of families in low paid work.

There has been a rapid rise in the number of people in receipt of family income supplement, FIS, almost 60% since 2010, which is topping up the low pay paid by employers. 

It highlights the extent to which working families are at risk of poverty. 

Latest projections indicate FIS will be paid to more than 50,000 families in respect of 100,000 children this year. 

These are working families for whom work does not pay.

Low pay, precarious working hours and the chipping away of workers’ rights are bad for the economy and bad for society. 

We could paper the walls of the Dáil with the amount of research reports which consistently show the link between precarious work hours, if-and-when contracts, zero-hour contracts and the growth of inequality. 

An unregulated labour market is in no-one's interests. 

It dehumanises workers, puts huge pressure on the State in social transfers, reduces people’s disposable income and impoverishes households and children. 

I believe the achievement of the decent work objectives must shape our collective efforts in the coming period. It must be at the core of real  economic recovery ; it is a key driver of real social recovery. 
 
The issue of equal pay for equal work is a fundamental one facing the public sector. It has led to industrial action on the part of teachers and Gardaí, with nurses and health workers being balloted as we speak.

The government has no plan to address this issue outside of divisive sectoral  agreements with certain unions already within the Lansdowne Road Agreement. 

Alarmingly, there is no commitment from the government to allow for equal pay for equal work across the public sector. 

Separate to this is the issue of pay equality, currently there is no roadmap in place for fair and timely restoration. This needs to be in place before Budget 2018 is announced in October 2017.

It is now clear beyond doubt that the Lansdowne Road agreement has run out of road. 

It is now clear that the process of reaching a new  agreement must commence.

It is essential that there is no delay. Time is of the essence. 

So far the response from government has been flat footed and out of touch with reality. 

Government must understand that endless repetition of the 'Lansdowne Road' mantra achieves nothing. 

The government approach of 'holding the line' is really only time wasting. 

The government mindset of facing down workers and their unions is unacceptable. 

We need conversation, negotiation not macho posturing. 

The next public sector agreement should negotiate the fair and timely unwinding of the legislation and its removal from the statute books. 

The Lansdowne Road Agreement disproportionately benefited those over €65,000, giving full restoration of the cuts in pay imposed as part of the 2013 Haddington Road Agreement. 

As those under €65,000 saw minimal pay restoration, they have the greater outstanding claim in terms of pay justice and should . 

Any new pay agreement must set out a road-map for the unwinding of FEMPI legislation. It must tackle in a cogent and coherent way the inequality created by FEMPI.

The public sector needs to return to a single-tier pay system and that a new agreement should achieve equal pay for equal work. 

Frontline public sector workers in health, education, justice, transport, heritage and maintenance have had to deal with a system that has had its budget cut to the bone. 
 
We have seen a stark fall in frontline public sector numbers with a consequent deterioration in the stress levels, workload and environment of frontline workers.  

These intolerable working conditions are making the retention of staff, not to mention recruitment, extremely difficult in key sectors.  

Our class sizes are too big. We need to hire more teachers.  
 
We have too many people on hospital trolleys. We need to hire more doctors and nurses. 

Funding for public infrastructure was also slashed under previous governments. 

And Public sector workers and service users are left to pick up the pieces. 

It is wrong, cynical and wrong, to suggest as government has, that the choice is between restoring decent public service pay OR investment in public service provision. 

That is not true. The choice is in reality one between investing in public servants and services or not.

It is a choice between fair taxation or sweetheart deals for sectoral interests.

It is a choice between acting in solidarity, defending the common good OR pandering to the interests of the few. 

Politics is about choices. We live in times of great change, great anxiety but also of great opportunity. 

From the wreckage of the disaster visited online society by the gold plated Celtic Tigers we can build a new economy, a new social contract, a new Ireland. 

We can do this if we choose to, if we decide that there can be no return to the 'good old days' where the few dictated the destiny of the many. 

As we face into the many challenges which lie ahead we must act together.

Resolute in our determination and belief that the people of Ireland, the workers of Ireland can drive change. 

The women and men of 1916 took their courage in their hands. Against all the odds they struck, they struggled, they sacrificed. 

Now it falls to us to play our part, to finish the revolution for equality, for rights and inclusivity, for the Republic. 

Let's do it!

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