Collective confusion December 3, 2013Posted by Tomboktu in Collective Bargaining, Employment Rights, Human Rights.
In the Irish Times on Friday morning, Stephen Collins told us
Plans to introduce compulsory collective bargaining for all companies in the State will be announced tonight by Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore at the opening of the Labour Party national conference in Killarney.
The ICTU’s legal and legislative officer, Esther Lynch, tweeted on Friday that the “devil will be in the detail” but still felt able to declare “Really welcome announcement on progress towards securing proper respect for human right to collective bargaining”.
In the evening, what Eamon Gilmore actually said must have been a disappointment to her:
Labour agreed in the Programme for Government to reform the current law on employees’ rights to engage in collective bargaining, so as to ensure State compliance with the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights. And I am glad to say that Government will begin the process of legislating for that commitment in the coming weeks.
She would realise that enusring compliance with the European Court of Human Rights will not be a major change. The minister responsible for this change will be Richard Bruton, and he has twice told the Dáil what the gap in the Irish law is.
The ECHR judgment found that under United Kingdom law at the relevant time it was possible for an employer effectively to undermine or frustrate a trade union’s ability to strive for the protection of its members’ interests. Accordingly, the ECHR concluded that, by permitting employers to use financial incentives to induce employees to surrender important trade union rights, the UK had failed in its positive obligation to secure the enjoyment of the rights under the European Convention for the Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.
He confirmed that in June that year to Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea:
The compliance with the European Court of Human Rights judgment arose out of a judgment in the United Kingdom where, to paraphrase, a court judged that employers were giving priority to people who were not members of a trade union and in certain circumstances were deemed to have been victimising those who opted to join a trade union. The court found that the British law in that case was in contravention of human rights. The issue has arisen to proof our legislation against any similar frailty. This is my understanding of the matter.
Important as that is, it is a long way from what Stephen Collins reported on Friday morning.
I would love to know the story behind the differences between the front-page story in Friday’s Irish Times and the actual speech delivered on Friday night.
Was Collins given a dud briefing on Thursday, or did he misunderstand a reference in his pre-conference briefing to the Strasbourg court’s ruling, or did his report provoke contact between Richard Bruton — the minister responsible for the planned legislation — and Gilmore, leading to a change in the line by the time the speech was delivered on Friday evening? I don’t know which of those three possibilities — Collins spouting garbage, Collins being fed garbage, or Gilmore climbing down — is worst.
FairPhone June 11, 2013Posted by Tomboktu in Community, Economics, Employment Rights, Environment, Ethics, Human Rights, Technology.
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[WorldByStorm suggested today that I move this up from a comment to a full post. I've uodated it because the time reference in the original is now out of date.]
Last year, I mentioned (in passing) that when I when I first bought a mobile phone, I made a point of buying from a telecoms company that recognises their workers’ union. I did not mention then that I had also done some research to see if I could buy a model that reflected my concerns — where the minerals are from, or union recognition for the people who make the actual phone.
So, I was pleased to see fairphone.com opened their new phone to pre-purchase.
On June 5 they hit their target of 5000 orders in order to go into production, and there are two days left to order one of the first batch.
And at the weekend just gone, they were working on aspects of the design their second phone.
The ethos is summed up in the invitation to the group of designers who participated in that workshop:
FairPhone was created because most people have no idea where the component parts of their mobile phone come from, how they are manufactured, and by whom. Bas: “Mobile phones are part and parcel of a complex economic and political system. We want to make this system visible to everyone. We do that by manufacturing the FairPhone, which unravels that system step by step.”
They recongise that their product is far from perfect — the rights of the workers is not secured through union recognition — but it’s better than any other phone I know of. Worth a look, I would suggest.
Ireland breaches European human rights laws on workers rights January 30, 2013Posted by Tomboktu in Employment Rights, Human Rights, Workers Rights.
Ireland has been found to be in breach of eight European requirements on employment rights (pdf here). A total of 11 breaches of the Revised European Social Charter were itemised by the Council of Europe in legal findings published on Tuesday (29 January). The Charter is a sister human rights treaty to the European Convention on Human Rights (pdf).
The findings were made by the European Committee of Social Rights, an independent legal body set up to judge state’s conformity with the Charter.
In addition to finding that Ireland is breaching European human rights law, the Council of Europe watchdog indicates that it doubts that the State is properly implementing its legal duty to strive for full employment, and echoes an OECD report that Ireland’s performance on assisting people with job searches in ineffective. The Committee took note of the OECD’s findings that a quarter of people eligible for help from FÁS were never referred to it and that Irish spending on labour market policies relies on job creation schemes that have been judged to be ineffective. However, the Committee decided to defer coming to a legal finding of compliance or breach until the Government provides more information.
The Employment Equality Act was found to to be incompatible with the human rights standard because the maximum compensation that can be awarded is not sufficiently dissuasive and may not be enough to make good the loss a person suffers. The law was changed in 2011 to raise the amount to €40,000. Only the provisions on gender discrimination, where the upper limit does not apply, are found to meet the standard required.
Most of the shortcomings highlighted in the legal report concern the rights of non-EU workers. Ireland has been found to discriminate illegally against those workers in relation to their access to vocatonal training, their access to vocational guidance, the length of their residency requirements for access to higher education, and their access to further or continuing education.
Fees levied by Ireland for work permits were found to be excessive. At the time the Committee assessed the situation, they ranged from €500 to €2,250 (in the case of a person renewing a permit for five years).
A rule requiring both Irish and non-Irish people to be resident in a local authority area for a year before they are eligible for a maintenance grant for vocational training was also found to be a breach of the European Social Charter.
Ireland was also found that the rights of all newly employed workers — both Irish and non-Irish — is breached because they are not protected under the Unfair Dismissal Acts in their first full year in any employment. “The Committee considers that one year period of exclusion is manifestly unreasonable”, the report says. It also finds that excluding workers who have reached the normal retiring age from the protection of the Unfair Dismissals Act goes beyond what is permitted in European human rights law.
The European Committee of Social Rights also finds that employment rights of army officers is breached. Officers may not seek early termination of their commission unless they repay to the state at least part of the cost of their education and training, and the decision to grant early retirement is left to the discretion of the Minister of Defence. The human rights watchdog find that this could lead to a period of service which would be too long to be compatible with the freedom to choose and leave an occupation.
The Committee found Ireland to be in conformity with six provisions, and deferred reaching a conclusion in the case of six other provisions because the Government had not provided enough information to enable the Committee to assess if the State is meeting its obligations.
The findings were made in the annual reporting procedure under the Revised European Social Charter. A quarter of the 31 articles of the Charter are examined each year, in thematic clusters. The next report will examine Ireland’s situation in relation to health, social security and social protection.
Ireland ratified the Charter thirteen years ago. Unlike the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Social Charter does not provide individual redress, but collective complaints from trade unions, employers’ bodies and European NGOs can be heard by the European Committee of Social Rights.
Compliance… August 20, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Employment Rights, Gender Issues.
There’s not a lot that genuinely leaves me open mouthed, but this does. A film has been made of the ordeal suffered by a McDonald’s employee after a prank phone call purporting to be from a police officer, an ordeal that included physical and sexual assault and long lasting trauma.
I have to note as well the gendered aspects of this. In the series of so-called ‘prank calls’ those who were assaulted in this way (and to my mind it is an assault) were female. That is telling in and of itself in terms of the demands placed and the expectations of those who they were placed upon in terms of unable to seek support or expect any to be forthcoming. And indeed in terms of what was thought appropriate on the part of those who colluded whether willingly or otherwise in these events.
Then there’s the issue of authority whether seen or unseen. Those who were involved did so at the behest of a supposed police officer. That too is replete with various expectations, meanings and obeisance to power (scroll down the comments here for some disturbing but not unexpected anecdotes about abuses of power, sexual humiliation and gender). There’s more in terms of how some of those who were involved colluded with the person who made the original call. For them it appears that this was all the excuse they needed to act in truly vile ways however patently absurd the actions they were ordered to undertake.
As I’ve noted previously, workplaces are often run in incredibly dictatorial and unthinking ways where those in management and above are gifted extraordinary latitude. I’ve never seen a range of behaviours as bad as those described here, but I’ve seen pretty bad behaviours from management and bosses, bullying, insults, abuse of power. And what’s telling is how often this is rationalised – a few weeks ago I was discussing the issue of overtime. I’ve seen excessive demands put upon workers time and again. And the stick is not that hard to find.
In the real life incident as Slate notes:
If you’ve watched the 20/20 interview with the real-life Becky, Louise Ogborn—along with the accompanying surveillance footage—you know that the movie is no fantasy. Ogborn says that she begged her supervisor to let her go to the police station instead of submit to a strip search, but that she was ignored—and that ultimately she feared losing her job. When asked why she never tried to run away, she said, “I wanted to so bad,” but “I couldn’t bring myself to humiliate myself worse than I already was.”
That’s an extreme – the fear of losing a job leading even in the face of such egregious demands, but it is an extreme on a continuum of behaviours that almost all of us will be able to identify. And it is notable that in the court case subsequently taken by Ogborn – the worker who was the victim of this assault – against McDonalds, the company argued as part of its defence that ‘(4) the victim did not remove herself from the situation, contrary to common sense’.
Any of us who have any experience of low wage jobs will know the hollowness of that particular observation.
And the point is that whether at the hands of a sociopath who would make such a call, or management who would comply with such calls or more generally in profoundly negative work places there’s something about an area that given its centrality to our daily lives is curiously under thought through and which in some respects remains a realm apart where we must go, some of us at least, with no guarantee that the manner in which we are treated conforms with even minimal standards of human interaction.
In an age of austerity you can bet it isn’t getting any better either.
Profits Before Pay February 20, 2012Posted by Tomboktu in Business, Economy, Employment Rights, Inequality, International Finance.
This evening I listened to an interesting and informative programme in BBC Radio 4′s Analysis series, ‘Profits Before Pay’. The audio is available here.
The programme blurb from the BBC web site
It may come as no great surprise that many of us have experienced a wage squeeze, while the cost of living has gone the other way, since the financial crisis of 2008. However, as Duncan Weldon, a senior economist at the Trades Union Congress, points out, wages for most people in the UK began stagnating years before the crisis.
We tend to think of the early 2000s as a time of relative wealth: house prices were rising, credit flowed easily, the government introduced a generous tax credit scheme and people generally felt better off. But Duncan Weldon argues these masked the reality of what was going on.
Work done by the think tank The Resolution Foundation, which focuses on those on low and modest incomes, shows that there was almost no wage growth in the middle and below during the five years leading up to 2008 and yet the economy grew by 11% in that period. Others also point out that the share of the national income which goes into wages, as opposed to profits, has been decreasing since the mid-1970s. The argument is that less of the economic pie is going into the pockets of ordinary workers.
What is also clear is that a disproportionate amount of the economic wealth has been going to those at the top. The earnings of the richest few per cent have increased rapidly in the UK since the 1980s and that pattern accelerated in the last ten years. In the United States that process began earlier and has been more extreme.
Some economists argue that this is not a problem in itself as taxation, for example, helps to re-distribute the money to the less well off or those with disadvantages.
In Analysis Duncan Weldon asks why wages stopped rising in the years before the crash and what was the driving force for the squeeze?
Asking for the public’s views on human rights July 4, 2011Posted by Tomboktu in Employment Rights, Human Rights, Justice, Rights.
The Government’s Report on Human Rights for the Universal Periodic Review was published today. It’s a tad long, so I haven’t attempted to read it this evening. (But I am sure that some of the NGOs like the Irish Council for Civil Liberties will scrutinise it so that they can tell the UN’s Human Rights Council if our Government is telling any porkies or making key sins of ommission. And I think it is unusual in that it has been completed on time, which is unusual with Irish Government submissions to human rights monitoring bodies.)
Published with it are notes from seven public meetings the Department held as part of its consultation procedure before preparing the report. (Not published, peculiarly, are the written submissions the Department received. I hope the Department does publish them, because the data the Department has made available on the great public’s views at the meetings suggests we are a weird lot.)
It is clear from the notes of the public meetings that they were not particuarly useful in helping the Department of Justice prepare a complete report to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. And they probably were not meant to be. The vast bulk of the points were on issues the protagonist wants changed or retained. For example, at the Cork meeting, one of the contributions ardued “Section 37 of the Equality and Employment Act should be repealed, as it allows discrimination in the workplace”. I happen to agree with that call (the correct reference is the Employment Equality Act), but I don’t know if there is a basis for claiming that this change needs to be made on foot of Ireland’s commitments under any of the UN human rights conventions it has ratified. There are other reasons for seeking a change to that law, but the meetings were not about those reasons.
In contrast, one of the labour-rights speakers at the Ballymun meeting knew what the UN’s UPR process was about when they said
The National Report should acknowledge the damage done to workers in Ireland by the State’s failure to oblige companies to engage with unions.
And of course, when you see how well the workers’ friend at that meeting understood and invoked the technical detail of the Human Rights Council’s UPR, you immediately see how pointless the process of a domestic consultation by the Department of Justice is — at least when that consultation is held before they have drafted their report.
it is not just cynics who would hold that Governments — whether of the permanent civil service sort or the temporary political sort — are not in the business of confessing their sins in public, unless it is to mitigate criticism by saying “we will shortly cease sinning (and we’re not all that bad anyway)” (which the State’s report does in the case of the rights of transgender people). But suppose for the moment that the cynics are wrong, that governments are willing to use documents like their submission to the UPR to acknowledge shortcomings. Now ask yourself: how can you best engage the public in a consultation on that process? Well, throwing them a blank sheet of paper, and very technical guidelines is not a way to go. But that is precisely what the Department of Justice did on its website for the UPR. And those Techincal Guidelines the Department referred people to weren’t even written for Ireland. If you plough through them, you find that the relevant standards include
Human rights instruments to which the State is party; Voluntary pledges and commitments, including (where relevant) those undertaken when presenting candidature for election to the HRC; and Applicable international humanitarian law
Not the kind of items that members of the public are familiar with, I think.
In the end, somebody was clearly pushing every opportunity to make their case when they raised this point:
• Closure of fire stations in Offaly
I suppose that shows that if there are people who are determined to get their issue onto the table, then no amount of proposer briefing and support for a public consultation process will weed out the duds. But it could help the non-expert who is willing to focus correctly if the Department provided guidance intended for the general public.
On the positive, the views offered did start out well from a Left perspective, with the following point being made at the first Dublin meeting on 16 May:
Trade unions & right to collective bargaining – 2 speakers said that Ireland is not compliant with international standards in that there is no legislation obliging an employer to engage with trade unions. As a result, companies that engage with unions in other countries do not engage with unions here, because there is no legal compulsion to do so.
The issue was also raised on 20 May in Kilkenny. On 23 May in Limerick, two speakers expanded with another point about employment rights and who it affects:
workers in Ireland are being denied the right to organise and to bargain collectively. Multinationals who engage with trade unions in other countries refuse to do so here because the law does not oblige them to. employment situation in Ireland is deteriorating, especially for vulnerable, migrant workers. Those on work permits are scared to seek membership with unions as their employers could withdraw their work permits. Ireland lags far behind the UK, where workers’ rights are protected by legislation. The problem is not just with multinationals but also domestic companies
Whoever spoke on employment rights at the final meeting, in Ballymun on 30 May, seems more familar with human rights law and the UPR procedure.
- Workers in Ireland are being denied the right to organise and to bargain collectively. Despite having signed up to 6 core human rights treaties, right to collective bargaining elements have not been implemented. Government have failed to secure our rights.
- The National Report should acknowledge the damage done to workers in Ireland by the State’s failure to oblige companies to engage with unions.
That first meeting also saw another theme that came up at every meeting, and at length at every meeting:
Reproductive rights / abortion – conflicting points made
On that first evening evening in Dublin, the points made were as follows:
UN should not enforce laws on member States that are anathema to the people, such as abortion, which is opposed by a majority of the people in Ireland The unborn child should be included in all efforts to protect the right to life Pro-life representatives should be included in all official Government and international discussions and committees concerning the right to life The right to life of the unborn child is protected under Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution. This right should be protected by the State and the UN. Abortion is also prohibited by UN language. (Several speakers). The Irish people do not want abortion. (Several speakers). Ireland needs a deep investigation into the concept of life and when it begins. The UN should lead campaign for a worldwide prohibition of abortion. (Several speakers.) The State should look after rights of the post-born, not just the unborn. It is wrong to dictate to people facing crisis pregnancies.
Nothing surprising there, given the strength of feeling on the issue raised. There was one dissenting voice that night:
Ireland should provide for increased reproductive justice and offer choice to people, including termination of pregnancy.
Some people might winder what exactly lies behind the next point on the abortion issue, made two days later at the public meeting in Athlone:
Pro-life volunteers are harassed and bullied. Female volunteers have been forcibly removed by Gardaí and detained under the guise of the Public Order Act. When they approached Amnesty Ireland for representation, they were turned down; selective approach to human rights
It was not until the final meeting, in Ballymun on 30 May that different views on the issue were aired for a second time:
We export our difficulties; many women whose lives are in jeopardy from crisis pregnancies are forced to leave the State for support and rely on European Courts. Their rights should be upheld. Irish women should have access to information on abortion. The State should uphold the rights of women to determine what happens with their own bodies. Expressed the view that pro-life groups were influenced by faith in a deity whose existence could not be proven. Lack of abortion rights in Ireland is a human rights abuse. Women’s right to choose needs to be properly acknowledged and taken on board in legislation.
Another point was not listed under the heading of abortion but was probably made with abortion in mind was the following:
NGOs should not be allowed to make submissions to the UN that contradict our Constitution.
On 27 May, in Cork, the contributions moved onto another plane altogether:
One speaker spoke of the pro-abortion lobby being funded by US Wiccans, who want the babies for use as sacrifices in satanic ceremonies.
I presume that this point has not been used for the report to the UN.
The list of other topics raised is too long to give them all the same treatment:
• Adopted people
• Children’s rights
• Criminal justice system
• Rights of people with disabilities
• Domestic violence against men
• Domestic violence against women
• Environmental issues
• Family issues/ Rights of the family (which included some calls for continuing the ban on same-sex marriage)
• Fathers’ rights
• Health services for children with disabilities
• Housing rights
• Human rights education
• Human rights infrastructure
• Judicial system: lack of transparency / bad practice in public life
• Magdalene Laundries
• Mental Capacity
• Mental health services
• Migrant / asylum issues
• Misuse of Irish airspace
• Older people
• Prisoners’ rights
• Right to no religion, blasphemy, non-/multi-denominational education
• Social and economic rights
• Stalking – protection and awareness
• Issues relating to dealing with State bodies / legal system
• Transgender issues
• Lack of transparency / bad practice in public life : policing and political systems
• Travellers’ rights
• Ireland’s relationship with UN and other international agencies
• Underrepresentation of women in political life
The Department of Justices’ note-taker put a peculiar heading on the following point:
Gender and right to privacy issues
The State should put in place a national strategy to combat homophobia in conjunction with suicide awareness, focussing on schools.