Mandate calls for the right to access for trade unions

Tuesday 4 July 2017

Mandate President John O’Donnell moved a motion calling for the right to access for trade unions at the ICTU Biennial Delegate Conference in Belfast today (Tuesday, 4th July 2017). The motion was unanimously supported by the conference. The following is John’s speech to conference:

“Brother and sisters, the trade union movement is in its biggest crisis since the foundation of the state. In the 1970’s, trade union density was at 56% of all employees. Now, we are at half that level. In particular, density levels in the private sector are now at their lowest point in decades.

So we must put in place plans to rebuild our movement. Key to this is the right for trade union members to have access to their trade union official and for trade unions to be able to have discussions with their members in the workplace.
In Australia and New Zealand, among other countries, with 24 hours notice, trade unions can legally enter a workplace to do inspections on workplace rights, inspections for health and safety purposes and for consultations with their members.
Contrast this with Ireland. Mandate organisers have been physically removed from the car parks of companies like IKEA. Are Irish workers not as entitled to representation as workers in Australia or New Zealand?
The recent high profile dispute between our union and Tesco Ireland has exposed how weak our representational rights in Ireland are. At the drop of a hat, Tesco were able to stop our union from using union notice boards. We could not hold meetings or ballot members in Tesco, and instead had to organise meetings in hotels, community centres and other public places. This is nothing other than an obstruction on workers having a right to their trade union. If I join a golf club, I expect to be able to play golf. If I join a trade union, I expect to be represented by my trade union.
The Tesco dispute has become so bitter that the company is now refusing to put new workers into our union and has stopped contributions from the 22 stores where workers voted in favour of industrial action.
The National Employment Rights Authority’s most recent report for 2015 showed there were 275 inspections in the wholesale and retail sector. Out of those inspections, there was a ‘compliance’ rate of 48%. This means there were more employers in breach of legislation, than were compliant with it. The unpaid wages recovered as a result of those inspections was €255,000. That’s €930 per inspection. And it’s 275 inspections in an industry that employs 280,000 workers. If trade unions had access to the workers in the workplace, those abuses would be significantly lowered which would not only benefit workers, but also decent employers who are being undercut by rogue ones.
If we are serious about rebuilding our trade union movement, trade unions must be able to access workplaces to talk to workers about their issues. At a time when low pay and low hour contracts are more prevalent in this country than almost any other developed country in the world, when many employers are fragrantly breaking employment legislation with impunity, at a time when inequality is higher than almost any time in our history, the fight back has to start with something as simple as the “right to trade union access.”
I ask you to support this motion.”