Workers exploited in hotel, food and retail sectors, says Ictu

Union conference warned of climate change impact: ‘There are no jobs on a dead planet’

Ictu says employers in some sectors such as accommodation, food and retail are seeking to ‘work people as hard as they can for as long as they can for as little as they can’. Photograph: iStock

Ictu says employers in some sectors such as accommodation, food and retail are seeking to ‘work people as hard as they can for as long as they can for as little as they can’. Photograph: iStock

 

Employers in some sectors such as accommodation, food and retail are seeking to “work people as hard as they can for as long as they can for as little as they can”, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) has said.

Addressing the policy conference of the trade union Unite in Malahide in north Dublin, Ictu general secretary Patricia King said there was “a low pay story to tell” in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland.

She said she was a member of the Low Pay Commission — which makes recommendations to Government on the level of the minimum wage — and read all the submissions it received.

She said there were certain particular sectors such as accommodation, food and retail that continuously argued against any increase in the national minimum wage and maintained there was no such thing as the low pay economy.

“Their policy is to work people as hard as they can, for as long as they can for as little as they can. They have had that policy for decades and unfortunately continue to have it,” she said.

Ms King also told delegates that climate change had to be tackled. She said this would pose challenges to workers in some areas such as energy . She called for a “just transition” away from fossil fuels which would protect the livelihoods of workers and their communities.

Ms King said there was an existential threat to our planet on a scale that we have never faced before, at a national or a global level.

“It requires a clear, concerted, coherent and strategic response. It is not optional. There are no jobs on a dead planet,” she said.

“The Paris Agreement signed in 2015 means that action on climate change has been transformed from an optional policy extra for the governments, into a binding, international obligation.

“In addition this agreement also explicitly requires that signatory governments must ensure that the policy response to climate change is governed by the principles of a just transition.”

Greenhouse gas emissions

Ms King said that a priority on the island of Ireland must be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over coming decades and hasten an energy transition beyond fossil fuels.

“This will pose particular challenges for workers in the energy sector,” she said.

Ms King said Ictu had considered the need for a “just transition” at a conference in Tullamore and had, in particular, reflected on the future for workers within Bord na Móna, and some sections of the ESB.

“At its simplest a just transition is defined by trade unions as one which secures the future and livelihoods of workers and their communities in the transition to a low carbon economy,” she said.

“As we understand the term, it is about seizing new opportunities and sharing the benefits of change, through creating better jobs, better social protection, more training opportunities and greater job security for all those affected by global warming and climate change policies.”

Ms King said there was strong international evidence, such as in Scotland, Germany and Australia that such transition , properly planned, can result in decent work and new opportunities.

“We are calling for the immediate establishment of a national Just Transition Forum, which would be tasked with developing the appropriate measures to ensure that neither the Bord na Móna workforce nor the local communities in the Midlands are left behind.”

Unite represents workers in Britain, Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland.

Ms King told delegates that the trade union movement had grave concerns about the potential impact of Brexit on the rights of workers, the negative impact on trade and jobs and the Belfast Agreement.

“We are very concerned about the possibility of the re-introduction of the Border on the island of Ireland but we are equally concerned that we must also avoid a border within the UK, between Britain and Northern Ireland and any economic border between these islands.”