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That new law on working hours… April 30, 2019

Posted by Tomboktu in Business, Collective Bargaining, Employment Rights, Labour relations, Trade Unions, Workers Rights.

Last week, we got two opposing views on whether the changes in the law on working hours are an improvement for workers. (The changes came into force in March.)

On Tuesday, Mandate’s communications officer, David Gibney, had an article on the Irish Broad Left for ‘yes’, and on Friday, two academics at the Kenny Business School in the University of Limerick, Juliet Mac Mahon and Tony Dundon, had an article in the Irish Times for ‘no’. (The article by MacMahon and Dundon does not refer to Gibney’s and the fact that their article was published a few days after his seems to be a coincidence rather than an explicit response to Gibney’s article.)

Legal ruling on collective bargaining in Ireland on its way September 27, 2018

Posted by Tomboktu in Council of Europe, Workers Rights.
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A legal decision on collective bargaining for freelance workers in Ireland has been reached in Strasbourg (although under an outdated rule on the publication of the rulings, it will not be made public for a few months).

As it happens, the government changed the law in the two years since the case was lodged, but the legal ruling should be decided on the situation when the case was lodged.

The background to the case is that the Competition Authority prohibited freelance workers and employers from negotiating collective agreements. In August 2016, Congress lodged a case alleging that this situation was a breach of the workers’ human rights under the European Social Charter, the social rights counterpart to the European Convention on Human Rights (PDF, 93 pages, here).

The government’s main plank in its defence submission (available here) was that the law had been changed, but the European Committee of Social Rights, the legal body that determines if the Charter has been breached or not, has regularly ruled that its decisions are based on the situation at the time a complaint is made and not on changes governments make to law, policy or practice after a case has been lodged.

Ibec intervened in the case via its European representative body, the International Organisation of Employers (available here). In a bizzare approach, Ibec also argued that Ireland is in breach of the European Social Charter, but because the law was reformed in 2017 to protect freelance workers without Ibec being consulted.

A question that students of European human rights law will be watching for is whether the legal ruling focuses narrowly on the specific facts in Ireland or if the European Committee of Social Rights uses the opportunity to expand the European jurisprudence on collective bargaining rights more generally. And if it has used the opportunity to develop its jurisprudence, it will be interesting to see if it does so in a way that challenges EU law on workers’ rights.

Ireland breaches human rights laws on workers’ rights January 29, 2015

Posted by Tomboktu in Collective Bargaining, Council of Europe, Employment Rights, Human Rights, Ireland, Labour relations, Trade Unions, Uncategorized, Workers Rights.

Ireland fails to meet nearly half of its legal obligations on workers’ rights under European human rights law.

Legal conclusions (45-page PDF here) by the European Committee of Social Rights concerning workers’ rights were published by the European Committee last week. The  Committee assesses compliance with the Revised European Social Charter.

The findings show Ireland is not in conformity with the human rights requirements on workers’ rights in 10 out of the 22 provisions that Ireland has ratified. Ireland is in conformity with 11 of those provisions, and the government did not provide enough information for the legal situation on the remaining ratified provision on labour rights to be assessed.

The 22 individual provisions are spread across eight articles in the European Social Charter, which is the main sister instrument to the European Convention on Human Rights. The provisions that were examined govern standards in just conditions of work, fair remuneration, workers organising, collective bargaining, worker participation in determining and improving working conditions and working environment, dignity at work, protection of workers’ representatives in their workplaces, and information and consultation in collective redundancy procedures.

Ireland’s minimum wage rates were found to breach European human rights standards because people on the lower bands did not earn enough to have  decent standard of living, which is defined as half of the average net wage in the State.

A further illegality was found because the Payment of Wages Act does not place an absolute limit on the total amount of deductions from wages by an employer and because the Government failed to show that the act is applied in practice in a way that preserves workers’ means of subsistence. “Situations in which the portion of wages remaining after deductions may not be adequate to ensure the subsistence of workers and their dependants may consequently still exist”, the Committee found.

The lack of domestic laws requiring overtime work is paid at a higher rate than basic pay was also found to be a breach of the Charter. The Committee was told by the Government that overtime rates are negotiated at the level at which basic pay and conditions of employment are normally settled — meaning in an individual firm or across an industry or sector. No evidence was produced to show how this works in practice, despite the Government being asked to provide the information following a previous assessment of the legal situation in 2007.

Curiously, although the European Committee did refer to the Haddington Road Agreement for the public and civil service in assessing other aspects of the Charter, it did not mention that Haddington Road breached European human rights law on overtime because it required certain categories of worker to provide the first hour of overtime not only without a higher rate of pay, but without any pay. That part of the Haddington Road Agreement expired in 2014.

The European Committee identified three ways in which Irish law on sacking workers breaches human rights requirements. The notice period in the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act are inadequate. The Committee said that this illegality was identified as far back as 1973. It also said that the scope of the illegality on this point has been expanded since Ireland was last assessed because the law on minimum terms was extended to cover civil servants. A third breach was found concerning instant dismissal of a worker for misbehaviour. The European Committee found that the standard that is contained in Irish law is too weak, and that instant dismissal can be justified only in cases of “a serious offence” and not the lower threshold of “misconduct” set out in the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act

In examining the situation here on working time, the European Committee warned the government that contracts where workers must be available for work but are later regarded as resting if they were not actually given work are illegal under human rights law. It asked the government to give the Committee information on the rules that apply to on-call service when Ireland next reports on the right to just conditions of work. However, the Committee did have enough information to find that Ireland’s laws do not conform to the human rights standard on hours of work because it allows workers in the merchant shipping sector to work 72-hour weeks.

A separate breach was identified by the European Committee because there are inadequate safeguards in Ireland to prevent people working for more than twelve consecutive days without a rest period.

A number of Irish rules on trade unions were found to be illegal under the Revised European Social Charter. Although some forms of closed shops have been unconstitutional since the 1960s, the European Committee found that the right to freedom of association was not fully protected because pre-entry closed shops and post-entry closed shops when they apply to newly recruited employees are not definitively illegal.

Irish laws on the licensing of trade unions breach human rights law in a number of ways. The Unfair Dismissals Act is inadequate because does not protect workers from being sacked for trade union activity if the union does not have a negotiating license. Another breach is that under Irish law a trade union that does not have a license — and the union’s officials and members — can be sued by an employer, and an employer can sack all employees in an unlicensed union for taking part in a strike.

The ban on the garda staff associations such as the AGSI and GRA from joining Congress was also found to be a breach of human rights law, re-iterating a finding in 2014 in a case take by the AGSI (42-page PDF here). A number of other specific breaches of human rights law for gardaí from the AGSI case were also found to be still relevant in the new conclusions, including the complete ban on any Garda ever striking.

Although the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 applies to all workers, Ireland does not conform to European legal standards because the government did not show that workers exposed to occupational health risks are entitled to appropriate compensation measures such as reduced working hours or additional holidays.

The conclusions were published last week, some time after the work on drafting them and equivalents for 40 other countries had been completed.  In the intervening period, the legal findings of the European Committee for Social Rights were described as “non-binding” by the Minister for Defence in the Dáil. It will be interesting to see if they European Committee responds to that attack when it next publishes conclusions or a decision on a case from Ireland.

The Revised European Social Charter contains 31 articles and under the reporting procedure, the European Committee of Social Rights states’ compliance with approximately a quarter of the articles each year.

Although the 2014 conclusions on labour rights were published by the European Committee last week, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has not publicly responded to the findings.

A list that was mentioned in the Dáil November 18, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Business, Employment Rights, Uncategorized, Workers Rights.
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Looking through the Committee stage debate in the Dáil on the Workplace Relations Bill earlier this month, I came across the following contribution to the debate by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to identify which category of people intimately associated with a company is missing from the list in the second sentence.

If there is a breach of duty on the part of a director which causes damage to the company, he can be sued or held liable for damages. Claims can be brought by shareholders, by a financial institution or on a director-versus-director basis.

Those remarks were part of a response to an amendment proposed by Sinn Féin’s Peadar Tóibín. He had support on the point from Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary:

Often, company law does not respect the fact that people work in companies.

Tóibín followed that with a broader observation:

Often, we get to a position like this and the Minister will go as far as to say that he understands there is a problem but this is simply not the place to sort it out. We had similar debates when discussing the Companies Bill, and we were told then that it was not the right place to sort it out. Most likely, I will bring in legislation to amend the Companies Bill to deal with this issue if we are not successful here. Perhaps the Minister might indicate his openness – I understand he cannot make a promise based on something he has not seen – to tackle this issue of the corporate veil.

Two things strike me as interesting about the Minister’s response to this issue. First, after over three years in his second stint as Minister in the relevant department (and two and a half years in essentially the same department in the 1990s and I don’t know how long as spokesperson when in opposition), he said:

I am not an expert in the field.

The second striking feature of his explanation is that he came back to the following point on why he would not accept Tóibín’s amendment:

The legal advice is very strongly against it.

And stopped at that. He did not summarise that legal advice or explain what the legal problem is. Parliament, when making laws, should have all the legal information it needs to understand barriers it faces in making those laws. Unfortunately, neither Tóibín not Calleary pushed him on what the legal problem is, although Tóibín did indicate that he is looking to introduce a bill to deal with the problem.

Women employees ‘accepting’ less remuneration than men for the same roles? April 15, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Feminism, Gender Issues, Workers Rights.

Ignore the fluff in much of this report and check this out, from the Irish Times, in relation to a Employment Market Monitor from CPl.

The survey also found that 40 per cent of employers said that women generally accept less remuneration than men for equal roles, particularly in the tech sector, while the monitor points to a strong first quarter for job listings, with the level of jobs posted in the science, engineering & supply chain segment showing the strongest growth since early 2013.

What, one wonders, is the definition of ‘accept’ used in that statement?

Employment Tribunal costs in the UK: Removing agency from workers… March 18, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Workers Rights.
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For a taste of how the implementation of systems can constrain supposedly progressive options, look no further than this example from UK’s Socialist Unity where Andy Newman writes about how the Employment Tribunal there has new fees.

Charging £250 to issue a claim and between £960 and £1,060 for a hearing has priced workers out of tribunals since 29th July last year.

It’s not difficult to imagine the chill factor that has on workers who seek to go through the mechanism of the ET. Indeed we don’t even have to imagine it for the figures on the October to December 2013 period are already in.

New figures from the government show that for employment tribunals the number of claims received in October to December 2013 was 9,801 – 79% fewer than in the same period of 2012, and 75% fewer than last quarter. Justice Minister Shailesh Vara claims that this sudden and dramatic fall is due to “long term trends”

How those on low and very low wages (or indeed many on quite reasonable wages) or short or fixed term contracts are meant to contest a system which incorporates such costs is almost impossible to understand. I’ve seen first hand the barriers that faced workers in some employments even attempting to see that national wage agreements and other agreements were implemented, saw how difficult it was for them to unionise, saw the psychological and other hurdles that had to be overcome in order to do so. And this throws another – and very material – barrier across their path.

As Andy Newman reports the GMB spokesperson saying the idea that’s some sort of structural decline is laughable. But this offers a perfect example of how progressive legislation fought and won for across years can be rolled back in the blink of an eye. Some interesting points raised in comments below the original piece on SU, not least that this offers a ‘green light’ to employers that the broader context has changed in their favour.

And another point reiterated is that, as ever, part of the answer to this is that people unionise so that their rights can be supported and vindicated as best as is possible given these constraints.

A brave new world of working… March 12, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Workers Rights.
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is the thought that comes to mind reading this. But as anyone following this last year will know approaches to workers in parts of IT are… telling.

Would you want to set up FairPhone? January 14, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Choice, Community, Employment Rights, Environment, Ethics, FairPhone, Human Rights, Technology, Workers Rights.

Who in their right mind would want to set up FairPhone? Obviously you can check out their site to find out who actually did set it up as a Dutch social enterprise, but would you want to?

Park, for a moment, the ‘fair’ bit and think about what is involved setting up a company to make a new smartphone. Smartphones are complex products, with chips, capacitors, resistors, glass, sensors, casings, displays, batteries, cameras, speakers, antennae, sockets and other bits and pieces that I don’t know about. And you’d need software. You would also need to design all of this, or get people to do that for you, and to set up or find a factory to make it.

If you did do it, you would be going into a market with big brands like Samsung, iPhone, Sony, Nokia, HTC, and so on, so you would need a pretty strong selling point to attract customers from the products offered by those heavy-hitters.

And talking about the Dáil… July 17, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Feminism, Irish Politics, Workers Rights.
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Martha Kearns has a pretty good piece in the SBP on the dispiriting and dismal scenes involving Fine Gael TD Tom Barry last week. Until the point where it isn’t.

But let’s note the good stuff first.

I don’t think anyone would disagree with the fact that there was no malice intended. But what the actions – which quickly spread across the internet in the form of a 14-second-long video clip – showed were disrespect, misogyny, inappropriateness, childishness. – and, of course, a total lack of awareness of how to properly behave in a workplace, let alone in the country’s chamber of political power.

And she continues:

If any other woman was subjected to this level of mishandling while she was trying to carry out her work, sanctions would already have been taken against the man involved. And she would have a case filed with the Equality Tribunal before she left the office that day.

I’m a bit less sanguine than she that ‘any other woman’ would be able to get to the ET, perhaps most or many, but I would think, and this is drawn from my own experience, that some workplaces are deeply misogynistic and sexist to the point where people are too intimidated to complain. Still, not difficult to believe that she is correct in relation to the following, that because of the context it was smoothed over…

But this is politics. To be more specific, this is Irish politics. Sure, it’s all a bit of a laugh and why don’t ye wimmin just calm down and see the funny side of it.


Whatever the intentions behind Barry’s behaviour, it raises further questions about the establishment’s ongoing plan to attract women into the political arena. Out of the 166 Dáil seats, just 25 (or 15 per cent) are held by women. This is behind the world average of 19.5 per cent and the European Union average of 24 per cent. Ireland lies in 76th position in a world table of women’s political representation in parliament.
And also she continues that the structural aspects are such that they are deeply problematic for any woman with a young family lot thinking of having children. Of course this is true of a broader swathe of the working environment too, and it is indicative of just how working lives are, of necessity, fitted around commercial and work demands and to the detriment of personal and familial issues.

As it happens Gerry Adams was one of the few to bring that up in the actual debate, particularly when it came to the absurdity of the late night/early morning sitting. Because, of course, it wasn’t just the TDs but the workers in the Oireachtas, many of who found themselves forced to remain there because the representatives couldn’t organise their time more efficiently and more appropriately. Something to consider in light of all the rhetoric about that sitting.

Still, got to admit that for all that it is good to see the ‘m’ word in use, I found the following a bit irritating:

The latest antics in the Dáil are hardly going to have young, professional women banging down the doors at Leinster House.

Professional women? Surely any women?

Meanwhile, speaking of class… back in the UK, and no doubt appearing here soon… July 12, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Workers Rights.

A number of deeply thought-provoking pieces by Will Hutton in the Observer these last few weekends. He notes in passing that the current crisis has meant for the UK that…

By 2018, 10 years after the financial crisis began, our GDP will be, cumulatively, 16% lower than it would have been had the crisis not broken. Only war has provoked such a discontinuity in our growth performance in modern times. This is imposing incredible and growing hardship on everybody, except for a few. Average incomes have fallen by 7% from their peak. You can see the effects in any high street. It’s a world where good jobs are scarce, half a million rely on food banks, zero-hour contracts mushroom and the future is dark.

A single sentence, and it covers so much. Food banks. Zero-hour contracts. Unemployment. A close relative of mine is on one in the UK. Listening to the way in which it is used to atomise workers is something else. Understanding the demoralisation and fear of workers in the face of such measures and the very immediate background of large scale unemployment goes more than some way to understand the limited nature of resistance to them.

And as CMK noted on the CLR recently, this is the future, slowly, piecemeal, such measures expand as the crisis continues and as the orthodoxy seeks ever more to consolidate whatever the nature of the outcomes in the broader socio-economic context. This again is why the pleas that ‘austerity’ etcetera is value neutral, from Dan O’Brien and others are so unconvincing. There are political formations structured precisely to ensure the delivery of a more ‘flexible’ work force and environment, for which read a diminution of workers rights and terms and conditions. And as with the recent set back in relation to JLC’s, REA’s et al, this is a process which continues apace.

Still Hutton does a further service in his piece by noting the following the weekend before last. Talking about the latest changes in welfare provision in the UK he notes:

There will now be a seven-day wait for the jobseeker’s allowance. “Those first few days should be spent looking for work, not looking to sign on,” he intoned. “We’re doing these things because we know they help people stay off benefits and help those on benefits get into work faster.” Help? Really? On first hearing, this was the socially concerned chancellor, trying to change lives for the better, complete with “reforms” to an obviously indulgent system that demands too little effort from the newly unemployed to find work, and subsidises laziness. What motivated him, we were to understand, was his zeal for “fundamental fairness” – protecting the taxpayer, controlling spending and ensuring that only the most deserving claimants received their benefits.

But as Hutton says:

Osborne has taken the Orwellian misuse of language to new levels. Losing a job is traumatising: you don’t skip down to the jobcentre with a song in your heart, delighted at the prospect of doubling your income from the munificent state. It is financially terrifying, psychologically mortifying and you know that support is minimal and extraordinarily hard to get. You are now not wanted; you are now excluded from the work milieu that offers purpose and structure in your life, along with the company of others. Worse, the crucial income to feed yourself and your family and pay the bills has disappeared. Of course you want to find a job as fast as you can. The sooner the whole experience is behind you the better. Ask anyone newly unemployed what they want and the answer is always: a job.

This is something that is under considered to a remarkable degree in the public debates about welfare. Consider our own situation during the 2000s where we had, using the economic definition, close enough to ‘full employment’. And now, of course we have nothing at all like it. In other words the overwhelming majority of those willing to work worked when work was available.

And that’s the key. When work is available. When it isn’t, quite naturally one has unemployment figures, as we do tipping 13 percent. Moreover there is demonstrably a willingness to work.

And the other aspect of this is that unemployment if a dismal place to be. I’ve mentioned before that I was made redundant in 2004 and signed on for a period of time. It wasn’t the first time, but it was in a way psychologically… well yes, as Hutton says, mortifying, particularly because it was in a boom. And his point about networks suddenly being cut away is well made.

Hutton points to a new brutality in British politics but it is of course more widespread. And as he also notes, there’s a remarkable amnesia, particularly in the British context:

But in Osborneland, your first instinct is to flop into dependency – permanent dependency if you can get it – supported by a state only too ready to indulge your mendacity. It is as though 20 years of ever-tougher reforms of the job search and benefit administration system never happened.

But consider all that in relation to his earlier thoughts about zero-hour contracts, food banks and unemployment, and one can see that this is a broad based, systemic assault on the conditions of those both in and out of work.

And a final thought in this regard. Where are we, in Ireland? Well from his piece two weekends ago Hutton writes:

…on Wednesday, George Osborne will proudly tell Parliament that the government has found the spending cuts to keep the country on course for the biggest shrinkage of the state ever overseen by any large industrialised country over eight years. Indeed, as debate rages worldwide over the rights and wrongs of austerity in the wake of the financial crisis, the IMF’s Fiscal Adjustment in an Uncertain World (April 2013, Methodological Appendix, Table 3) shows that only three other countries – Iceland, Ireland and Greece – are mounting public spending cuts that are proportionately larger over the same period. No large country in the eurozone is being asked to deliver spending austerity on this scale.

Hutton argues:

…on top, inflation of 3% or 4% would not be the end of the world. No sane policy-maker would make deficit reduction the sole aim of economic policy, or indiscriminate spending cuts the chief means of achieving it, whatever the economic conditions – more so given the soundness of the overall fiscal position. This is insanity.

Excise the ‘soundness of overall fiscal position’ (which is a reference to the UK) and the import of that paragraph remains. Yet that is precisely the aim of economic policy in this state. That truly is insanity.

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