Seanad debates

Friday, 30 April 2021

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business


10:00 am

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

This weekend we celebrate May Day, international workers' day. It is a day for trade unionists to reflect on their achievements and to plan for the huge work that still needs to be done. This evening I will be addressing party comrades on our vision for workers' rights in a united Ireland.

The Leader will not be surprised that I am raising the issue of collective bargaining. The problem with the term "collective bargaining" is that it is quite technical and does not really tell people a lot. The best way to explain it is that the lack of collective bargaining means that thousands of workers throughout this country have no say in their workplace. Due to a lack of collective bargaining, employers can just refuse to engage in dialogue with workers. Workers may be told that if they really cause trouble, they can be fired. There is legislation in place which allows workers to claim a few thousand euro in compensation, but that is the best money the employer will ever spend, because it can then show other workers what the consequences will be if they join a union.

Right now in Limerick, a company called Iron Mountain is refusing to negotiate with its workers and their union, SIPTU. Iron Mountain is a global US company. It manages files for the University Hospital Limerick and does a lot of work for the Office of the Ombudsman. It makes millions from taxpayers' money. This is how our procurement system works currently. We give huge amounts of taxpayers' money to the likes of Iron Mountain, which has told workers who have worked there for 17 years that it is not interested in what they want to discuss. The workers have been told that the company will close in July and they will receive a minimum redundancy payout. When the workers' union wrote to the company, it received a response thanking representatives for the letter and declining the request to engage with workers. These companies can do that because of the fact there is no collective bargaining legislation in place in this country. I ask Senators to imagine how it feels to be a worker of 17 years' service, who started on minimum wage and is not paid much more today, in this situation. All these workers want is a decent settlement. Unfortunately, they are denied even the right to negotiate that settlement because there is no law in place for collective bargaining.

Collective bargaining is recognised as a human right. It is recognised in Article 28 of the European Social Charter. We have signed up to that charter but we have not signed up to collective bargaining. What happens, as in the case of Iron Mountain, is that workers are voiceless. They have nowhere to turn. If they want to go to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, it does not matter, because the company will not turn up. It will argue that it is doing fine as it is, which is true, because it is making millions from taxpayers' money. When is this country going to change how we do procurement by introducing a simple clause which states that if companies get money from the State, they must recognise trade unions and the workers' right to join a trade union, and they must negotiate with these unions. How many decades will it take for this to happen? Unfortunately, for decades, neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael has acted to fix this and to give us some decency in the workplace. What will be done for those workers in Iron Mountain?

Incidentally, when the workers declared that they had got the union involved, the company doubled the number of vans it was using to remove files from the premises to ensure the place was closed as quickly as possible. That was the company's response. Is that the response we will give today? We must do more for the working class in this country. It is May Day weekend. Let us stand up and do something for the workers of Iron Mountain.


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