Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Constitution urgently needs tighter definition of the right to join a Trade Union - Ferris

22 February, 2006


Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris has called for "a tighter definition within the Constitution of the right to join a trade union in such a way that would make it illegal for employers to prevent workers doing so."

Speaking in the Dáil this evening, on a Sinn Féin private members motion that calls for a stand-alone Department of Labour Affairs, Deputy Ferris said, "Irish Ferries and Doyle Concrete both emphasised the need for safeguards to be placed to prevent employers attempting to emulate the tactics of the likes of Independent Newspapers in 1913. That need is even greater now that many employers see the existence of a large pool of potentially cheap and unorganised non-national workers from the new accession states as the means to undermine hard won rights and conditions.

"While the 1937 Constitution does recognize the right of workers to join a union, it places no corresponding compulsion on the employer to actually recognise this. In other words if an employer can find a way to break a union then there is no law to prevent this.

"That is why Sinn Féin is calling for a tighter defintion within the Constitution of the right to join a trade union in such a way that would make it illegal for employers to prevent workers doing so, or to sack them under whatever subterfuge for being a member." ENDS

Full text of speech follows:

There have been a number of instances over the past few months that illustrate the extent to which some employers are willing to challenge trade union organisation. Not only that, but that they are prepared to challenge workers rights on basic issues such as the very right to join and be identified with a trade union.

Last weekend one of the guests at our Ard Fheis was Joanne Delaney who was sacked by Dunnes Stores for the heinous offence of wearing the badge of the Mandate union of which she is a member. While no doubt it is claimed by the company that she was in breach of uniform regulations, it is clear that wearing union badges has not hitherto being invoked by Dunnes as an excuse to discipline an employee.

We are entitled to ask, therefore, whether this is part of their testing the water prior to further assaults on union members. If so, is Dunnes in fact planning to undermine union organisation as part of a plan to undermine wages and conditions and introduce what are fondly described as "flexible working patterns"?

That indeed has been the pattern in other disputes where companies have deliberately provoked existing work forces in the hope that this will allow them to replace union members with workers on lower wages and with weaker terms of employment.

That was clearly what was behind the Irish Ferries dispute and we had an even more blatant example with Doyle Concrete which disregarded Labour Court instructions and displaced an entire unionised workforce to take on non-national workers on lower wages and of course with no union membership. That company has now decided to close rather than obey the Court.

Irish Ferries and Doyle Concrete both emphasised the need for safeguards to be placed to prevent employers attempting to emulate the tactics of the likes of Independent Newspapers in 1913. That need is even greater now that many employers see the existence of a large pool of potentially cheap and unorganised non-national workers from the new accession states as the means to undermine hard won rights and conditions.

It also stresses the need for tighter legal safeguards for union organization. While the 1937 Constitution does recognize the right of workers to join a union, it places no corresponding compulsion on the employer to actually recognise this. In other words if an employer can find a way to break a union then there is no law to prevent this.

The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act (2001) and Industrial Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (2004), while providing options for unions that have been refused recognition by employers, do not deal with union recognition but with disputes over improvements in pay or conditions of employment.

The legislation, in fact, explicitly excludes arrangements for collective bargaining. It is unlikely, therefore, to improve union access to workplaces where the employers are determined to stay non-union and consequently is likely to have minimal influence in reversing the declining union density in the private sector.

That is why Sinn Féin is calling for a tighter definition within the Constitution of the right to join a trade union in such a way that would make it illegal for employers to prevent workers doing so, or to sack them under whatever subterfuge for being a member.

Connect with Sinn Féin