Yesterday, May 31st, the Labour Party launched a very substantial motion on workers’ rights under Private Members Business. This motion calls on the government ‘to prepare and introduce a legislative package that will protect and enhance workers’ rights by:
- ending the abuse of ‘if and when’ contracts;
- combatting bogus self-employment;
- ensuring freelance workers have the right to collectively bargain;
- extending the Transfer of Undertakings Regulations (TUPE) to workers in services such as catering and security;
- protecting workers in ‘informal’ insolvencies and collective redundancies;
- providing statutory redress for the victims of workplace bullying;
- promoting employment standards and the Living Wage in public procurement; and
- preventing unilateral reductions in pay
All the above reflect historic core Labour Party work and, more recently, priorities outlined in its 2016 General Election Manifesto. In particular, the call for the ending of ‘if and when’ contracts, the right to collectively bargaining for freelance workers, a Living Wage and the protection of workers in ‘informal’ insolvencies and collective redundancies all build on work achieved by Senators Ged Nash and Ivanna Bacik during the last government.
However, the genuine and continuous striving by Labour to enhance workers’ rights has been called into question. It was a comment below on my own Facebook by someone, whose political ideology I wouldn’t completely share but whose activism and advocacy for social justice and workers’ right I hugely respect that moved me to write this blog. Sadly he’s not the only one who holds this view as social media responses over the last 48 hrs show. Its easy to script the sanctimonious underpinnings, the deliberate pauses, the overplayed cynicism and the assertions similar to the comment I received from those politicians who, unlike Labour, are more conscious of their own image than of actually doing something about the issues they supposedly believe in.
You only have to look at the current Programme for Government to see the non-importance of workers’ rights – two pages on turf cutting and a few lines on workers as Ged Nash pointed out. If you want further evidence have a look at how many Fine Gael TDs signed the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Charter for Fair Conditions at work or ask how many of them even attended Labour’s Living Wage Conference or indeed check out all previous Fine Gael election manifestos. These TDs are the same ones that the Labour Party coalesced with in the last government and yet managed to progress many worker-centred issues, most notably the introduction of collective bargaining legislation in the face of not just Fine Gael’s ideology but global anti-trade unionism.
The thing is, if you can step back and take an objective view, it is evident that it is not Labour that is cynical or exploitative. Rather it is Labour that seeks to consistently exploit, on behalf of workers, every avenue that will lead to even the smallest gain towards better fairer terms, conditions and protections for them. If you look you’ll see that Labour demonstrated that in the previous government and is now pro-actively leading the way for workers in this era of new politics and therefore this motion, and indeed the Labour Party, should be supported for what it is what it can achieve for workers in our country .
What its critics need to realise that, while they were concentrating on protesting and point scoring, the Labour Party actually got out there and did something about the issue