Sinn Féin TD for Louth and East Meath, Imelda Munster, has said that sweeping reforms are needed in trade union laws in Ireland to address some of the abuses of workers in the tourism and hospitality industries.
She called on the sector to engage with workers using the forum of the Joint Labour Committees, which have not been functioning in the hospitality industry since 2012.
Teachta Munster was speaking at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media, where union representatives and academics made presentations regarding the appalling pay and conditions experienced by many workers in tourism and hospitality.
The committee heard from representatives from Unite the Union, SIPTU and ICTU, as well as from Dr Deirdre Curran from NUIG who has carried out research in the area.
Teachta Munster said:
“I recently read a survey report written by Unite, ‘Hidden Truths’, and I found some of the statistics around low pay, poor conditions, abuse of workers’ rights as well as workplace abuse and harassment absolutely shocking. On the back of this, I called for the unions to appear before the committee to discuss these matters.
“At the committee, we heard about the poor conditions and pay experienced by workers in the industry. Unite’s report showed that of those surveyed, 55.6% earn below the living wage, 36.6% do not receive all their entitlements in terms of paid holidays and 73.4% do not receive a premium payment for working on Sundays.
“The report also showed that 67.7% of respondents reported that they have experienced or witnessed bullying or harassment at work and 76.8% reported that their employment affected their mental health.
“In my opinion, and in the opinion of some of the witnesses, this all boils down to very poor labour laws in this state. We currently have laws that do not compel employers to recognise their workers’ unions, and unions do not have a right to access a workplace. This makes it extremely difficult for workers to assert their rights.
“Since 2012, the Joint Labour Committees (JLCs) for hospitality have not been operational. JLCs are a forum where workers’ and employers’ representatives can work together to regulate conditions of employment and set pay rates.
“In that same year, legislation was introduced giving employers an effective veto, meaning that they do not have to attend the JLC which completely undermines the entire process.
“I asked that the Joint Committee on Tourism write to the Irish Restaurants Association and the Irish Hotels Federation asking them if they will engage with the process of getting the JLC back up and running in order to address some of the workers rights issues we heard in the Committee.
“The hospitality industry cannot complain about a labour shortage, and fly kites blaming the PUP when there is no evidence that the PUP is to blame for the shortage if they are not willing to engage with workers representatives.
“I hope that the industry pays attention to the very disturbing evidence committee members heard this week, and that they do their bit to engage with efforts to get the JLCs back up and running.
“I also proposed that the committee carries out further investigations on this matter, and this will be up for discussion at next week’s private meeting of the Joint Committee on Tourism.”