March 7th, 1972
FROM THE ARCHIVES:The High Court decided a threat by the barmen’s trade union to picket pubs in order to force them to fire female employees was a breach of the women’s constitutional rights. – JOE JOYCE
MR. JUSTICE Kenny said two plaintiffs were members of the Licensed Grocers and Vintners’ Association, which had entered into agreements with the first-named defendant, , in 1924. Another agreement was made in 1968 in relation to a new category of workers known as bar waiters.
There was nothing in the agreement which compelled employers to ensure part-time bar waiters were members of the union. In 1967 one of the plaintiffs employed bar waitresses on a part-time basis, to serve customers at tables in the lounges, and other publicans had now done this. They worked two or three nights a week from seven o’clock until closing time. None of them were members of the union.
While there were some female members of the union who were employed in the grocery and provision business, employment in licensed premises was, until 1967, confined to males, and the union had never agreed to the employment of females – other than cleaners.
In May, 1971, the union wrote to one of the plaintiffs objecting to the employment of female lounge staff, stating there was no provision in the agreement “for the employment of such labour”. On October 1st, the union threatened that their members would withdraw their labour and picket the premises in furtherance of a trade dispute and although the matter was referred to the Labour Court, agreement was not reached.
The plaintiff’s first contention, said Mr. Justice Kenny, was that the objection by the union to the employment of bar waitresses was based, not on any suggestion that they were unsuitable for the work, but solely because they were female, that this was a a breach of the constitutional right of equality before the law, and also that the picket was designed to compel the plaintiffs to infringe their right which each of the bar waitresses had.
The plaintiffs also contended that each of the waitresses had a constitutional right to earn her livelihood without discrimination on the ground of sex.
The defendants’ principal submissions were that the employment of bar waitresses was a breach of the agreement of 1968, the right of equality before the law had not been infringed and that the Constitution did not create a right to earn a livelihood without distinction on the ground of sex.
Mr. Justice Kenny said that a policy which sought to prevent an employer from employing men or women on the ground of sex only was prohibited by the Constitution. A demand that women should not be employed in any activity solely because there were women – and not because the work was unsuitable for them or too difficult or too dangerous – was a breach of this right.