On Keelings and workers’ rights

On Keelings…and other dodgy workplaces, because this type of shit is not confined to one or two bad employers.

For years I’ve been banging on about exploitation of workers in many sectors. Politically, most TDs just bury their heads in the sand. One solution is very simple though…the right to access workplaces for trade unions.

If unions could do inspections for the following purposes…

  1. Health & safety compliance
  2. Workplace rights compliance
  3. Collective bargaining purposes

…then we’d all be a little bit better off.

Keelings are not a poverty stricken company.

They can afford to regularly fly in hundreds of workers to exploit on a regular basis. They say, “Irish workers don’t want to do the job.”

Bollox.

I worked in Keelings 15–20 years ago and it’s hard work, but we did it. And we were paid a decent wage to do it too.

If the company wanted to, it could save all the money on flights and accomodation costs and use them to pay workers a decent wage. Problem solved. That’s not the issue though. It’s about exploitation of workers and profiteering, plain and simple.

The Workplace Rights Commission (WRC) produces a report every year on the inspections they do. The amount of stolen wages is astronomical.

In 2018 the WRC did 5,753 inspections and found €3,137,916 in unpaid wages for workers.

That’s WAGE THEFT in any persons language. If the worker did it to the employer, they’d be in jail. But the reverse is much more acceptable.

Some sectors are worse than others.

Wholesale and retail, for instance, returned an average of €2,014 in unpaid wages for every inspection. FOR EVERY INSPECTION. There were only 363 inspections in an industry that employs 300,000 people.

In agriculture, €1,779 was stolen from workers on average.

And in Food & Drink, it’s €720 per inspection.

If workers are losing out to the tune of €550 for every inspection made on average, how much is revenue losing out on also? Lost income from PAYE, PRSI, USC, and VAT.

The number of inspections done by the State equates to 0.25% of the workforce. If you extropolate that across the economy, you’d have a potential wage theft of over €1.2 billion. Obviously that’s exagerated, but with more inspections, the workers and the tax payer would both be better off. And here’s the thing…unions would do it for free.

I’ve been banging on about this for years. It should form the main demand of trade unions in Ireland (not sure why it very seldom gets mentioned by unions).

Back in Sep 2013 in the Oireachtas I got to say a few words and here’s the quote:

“I have a little experience of working with the trade union movement in Australia, where they have proper collective bargaining rights. They also have right of entry rights. This means that within 24 hours I can walk into any employment anywhere in that country and inspect for health and safety breaches or other employment breaches. If that type of legislation was brought into Ireland it would sort out a good deal of this trouble. If we are really going to make an impact on the suggestions or make an impact to try to improve the lives of the real people who are at the bottom of these cases then the suggestions in the document are excellent but putting in place effective collective bargaining rights should be a priority as well.”

It’s very frustrating that we still don’t have this right. When I pushed for it back in 2013 I was ridiculed and criticised for “not knowing what the Irish trade union movement’s objectives are”. Well if they aren’t about allowing workers the right to representation, I’m not sure we’re going in the right direction. Other unions just ignored the call, even after we managed to get this passed as ICTU policy in 2017.

Unfortunately, after 5 years of pushing for it, when Conor McCabe, through Sinn Fein, pushed that very piece of legislation, it was rejected by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael who are obviously more comfortable with workers being exploited than allowing workers access to trade unions. At the time I think only one other trade union wrote to TDs in support of the legislation.

We need the right to access workplaces, to talk to workers and advise them on their rights as well as recruit them to trade unions and win better pay for them.

At the same time, we need to protect their health and safety by making sure companies don’t cut corners or put lives at risk.

Hopefully Irish unions start paying a bit more heed to this cruicial piece of legislation now. In fact, one of the main reasons Irish private sector trade unions are dying a slow death is because of a lack of these provisions. It’s also the reason why we have one of the highest proportions of low paid jobs in the developed world.

And hopefully the public will back these important changes needed for Irish society to improve.

Solidarity with all of the workers exploited by Keelings ✊

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