The trade union Mandate will call for protections for bar and other staff to be put in place as part of any legislative reform of the licensing laws when its representatives address members of the Joint Oireachtas committee on Justice on Tuesday.
Mandate general secretary Gerry Light will tell the committee that after more than a decade of casualisation in the industry, any proposed modernisation of the regulations governing the sale of alcohol should be accompanied by new safeguards for affected employees in relation to pay, working conditions and protection from assault.
“Bar work by its very nature falls into the category of high-risk occupations particularly from a health and safety perspective with workers already exposed to long working hours, dealing with unnecessary levels of aggression, violence and intimidation from some customers under the influence of alcohol,” he will tell the committee which is engaged in pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the Sale of Alcohol Bill.
The Bill is intended both to pull together a wide range of legislation, some of which dates back nearly 200 years, and also provide a framework for the extension licensing hours in a variety of circumstances, a move intended to facilitate cultural events at night and benefit the wider economy.
Mr Light, however, will warn that bar staff already suffer in many instances from poor pay and conditions while working in an environment that is often “volatile” or “risky” due to the presence of alcohol.
The union urges a requirement for mandatory training for staff, legislation to better protect them from assault, including sexual assault, or the threat of it, as well a premium to pay for hours worked after 11.30pm along with compensation for the cost of transport after that time.
“There exists serious workers’ rights issues including health and safety considerations at stake in any potential reform of the licensing laws,” Mr Light is to tell the TDs and senators. He will point to the high level of Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) inspections in the period leading up to the pandemic that found employers in the sector who were in breach of their responsibilities to their staff.
With an estimated 50,000 people working in bars and related businesses, the union argues “the introduction of new legislation governing the operation of the sector must allow for constrictive and positive realignment of the sector and the jobs within”.
It calls for the establishment of an industry body with representatives of all stakeholders to monitor and progress issues like staffing levels, training and security of staff and suggests that breaches of employment law should be grounds for a licence to be revoked.
The measures contained in the Bill have received a mixed response with the potential for more widespread late-night drinking prompting concerns on the part of medical and other organisations.
In its address to the committee, Mandate acknowledges the potential problems involved and suggests that a portion of tax revenue generated be “ringfenced for sports and culture, in addition to tackling addiction and mental health issues”.