Mandate Trade Union’s position on the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017

The issue

Martina is a member of Mandate Trade Union and she works for a major multinational retail outlet. She’s been working between 40-48 hours per week for 7 years. Recently Martina complained to her local manager about a stack of pallets blocking the fire exit of her store. Her manager took action. Except, her manager didn’t resolve the obstruction to the fire escape. Instead, she cut Martina’s hours to the minimum number in her contract, which is 10, as a penalty, and told her she could have her 48 hours back in six months. There is absolutely nothing illegal in this.

This reduction in hours amounted to an 80% cut in income for Martina and she had to go to her local Credit Union to make up for her lost hours and income (her contract forbids her from obtaining work elsewhere). This has made Martina a very compliant worker. Since this incident, Martina has never raised a grievance.

This is not a fictional scenario. This happened, and it is not unusual. It illustrates the level of control that many Irish employers have over their workers. In Dunnes Stores, the second largest private sector employer in the country with 10,000 staff, 85% of respondents to our annual survey said allocation of hours by managers is used as a method of control against them. In a separate survey of workers across the retail sector, 51% said allocation of hours is used by management as a method of control. Lodge a grievance, join a trade union, request the implementation of your minimum statutory rights and you may have your hours cut.

When 6,000 Dunnes Stores workers participated in industrial action on April 2nd, 2015 to highlight this very issue, the very next day their employer slashed workers’ hours, making an industrial resolution to this issue close to impossible.

This is why the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 is so important. It is an opportunity for our elected representatives to help protect low paid workers in vulnerable positions.

Societal impacts

The absence of legislative protections for workers on low hour contracts in Ireland is a major contributor to many of the current crisis facing the country. Retail, bar, restaurant and hospitality workers, among other precarious workers, are all disproportionately impacted by poverty, homelessness and the healthcare crisis.

Housing: Due to the fact that workers can only obtain a mortgage based on their guaranteed income, many are stuck in the private rental sector. A Dunnes Stores worker, who may regularly work 38 hours per week on €12 per hour (€456 per week), can only borrow 3.5 times their income off a bank. Because of their 15 hour contract, this equates to €32,760 which is obviously insufficient based on today’s house prices. Therefore, they are forced to continue in the private rental sector where they have faced rent increases of up to 82% in recent years. This is one of the main factors behind precarious workers being made homeless.

Healthcare: A recent research document produced by TASC entitled Precarious Work: Precarious Lives explained how precarious work has a negative effect on mental health. “The majority of participants described how their temporary and insecure working conditions caused depression and anxiety because they were unable to plan for the future.” Many Mandate Trade Union members are forced to attend work while ill because they fear they will not get their hours the following week if they call in sick. This was highlighted in the recent Lloyds Pharmacy strike where workers attended work while suffering from swine flu, bronchitis and pneumonia. The instability of income also makes it difficult for workers to make the choice between paying to see a doctor and putting food on the table for their families.

Low Pay: The flexibility in workers’ hours combined with a lack of representational rights in Ireland has contributed to Ireland having among the highest prevalence of low pay, not only in the EU, but also the OECD. This has led to high levels of food poverty, fuel poverty and child poverty. In many instances, when a low paid worker receives a pay increase, they want to reject it. This is because they know their hours will be reduced and their employer will hire a new member of staff on lower rates of pay and it will be those workers who receive additional hours. 89% of Dunnes Stores workers said it is common practice that new staff on lesser terms and lesser rates of pay receive more hours than longer serving staff on better terms.

Banded hours

Many employer representatives have highlighted their objections to this piece of legislation with bogus concerns.

Employee flexibility: One of the most often cited objections to legislating for secure hour contracts is “employees also want flexibility”. While this may be the case for a number of workers, the legislation does not prevent employees and employers coming to arrangements as equal parties. There isn’t currently a balanced relationship between employers and employees, with the employers holding a disproportionate level of power in the determination of hours. When 1,400 Dunnes Stores workers were asked: “Do you want more stable hours?” 98% said Yes.

Following debates in both the Oireachtas Committee and the Dail a settlement was reached in relation to the width of bands of hours. These bands, as proposed by the Dail, still provide employers with a high level of flexibility. An employee’s hours can still be cut by 5 hours per week, which is a significant reduction in income for a worker. For instance, an employee on the 16-21 hours band who is earning the Living Wage of €11.90 per hour can be cut from €250 to €190 per week. This €60 is a significant amount of money for a low paid worker. For employers’ bodies to argue to expand that band to 10 hours (15-25 hours) is disproportionate and unfair to low paid workers. For a worker earning the Living Wage of €11.90 per hour, they could have their income slashed from €297.5 to €178.5. This cut of €119 per week, or a 40% reduction in income, still provides employers with an enormous capacity to ensure workers are compliant and would therefore limit the intentions of this Bill.

Mandate Trade Union has negotiated secure hour contracts with a large number of employers including Tesco Ireland, Penneys, Boots Ireland, Marks & Spencers and Heatons, among others. The current bands in the legislation are closely aligned with some of those agreements and it is fair to say that they provide the employee and the employer with a level of flexibility and income security that suits both parties.

Recommendation: Mandate recommends maintaining the existing bands of hours.

Employment Status

At the last stage of the debate on the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017, an amendment which stated: “It shall be an offence for an employer to incorrectly designate an employee as self-employed” was inserted. While this amendment has merit, the Minister pointed out that the issue has not been fully debated during the consultation process and will therefore delay the implementation of the Bill if the amendment remains. It is worth implementing the merits of this amendment in a stand-alone Bill, but it is unfair on workers on precarious contracts to delay this Bill any further.

Recommendation: Remove Section 20 of the Bill in its entirety.

Ability To Seek More Hours

During the previous two stages of the Bill (Committee and Report Stages), a provision to allow workers to seek more hours at work was debated. It was inserted into the Bill at Committee Stage, but ultimately rejected by 38 votes to 35 at the Report Stage.

It stated: “In the event of hours becoming available an employer shall be required to offer any surplus hours to existing part-time employees first.”

This is in line with the EU Part-Time Worker Directive 97 – Annex Clause 5, Section 3:

“3. As far as possible, employers should give consideration to:

      (a) requests by workers to transfer from full-time to part-time work that becomes available in the establishment;

      (b) requests by workers to transfer from part-time to full-time work or to increase their working time should the opportunity arise;

      (c) the provision of timely information on the availability of part-time and full-time positions in the establishment in order to facilitate transfers from full-time to part-time or vice versa;”

Unfortunately workers in Ireland, unlike in many other EU countries, have no right to seek more hours at work. The lack of legislation in this regard led to a dramatic increase in underemployment and ‘involuntary part-time working’ in Ireland between 2008 and 2013 when we had the second highest prevalence of this practice behind Spain, with more than 147,000 workers unable to obtain extra hours. That figure is still quite high with many employers choosing to employ two or three workers on part-time precarious contracts rather than provide a decent full time job for any workers.

In 2015, when lone parents’ allowance was cut, the government cited this as an activation measure. The argument was that it would incentivise lone parents to seek more hours at work. Neither lone parents nor any other workers have ever had the legislative capacity to seek more hours at work. If the government is genuine about activation programmes and incentivising lone parents or low hour contract workers to seek more hours, this provision is essential.

Recommendation: This provision should be supported where possible, in this legislation or elsewhere.

Conclusion

During the past decade the Irish workforce has become more and more precarious. The combination of low pay and instability of hours has led to many workers becoming reliant on charities, food banks and on social welfare transfers. Dunnes Stores and Lloyds Pharmacy workers, among others, have highlighted the implications of insufficient legislation. There are now 450,000 workers across the country working on part-time contracts with little or no protections. The implementation of this Bill will not solve all the issues, but it will go some way towards redressing the power that unscrupulous employers have over their workers. It will provide tens of thousands of workers with certainty of hours and therefore certainty of income. And it will ensure that work in Ireland does pay.

Mandate Trade Union urges all members of the Oireachtas to pass the proposed Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 as a matter of urgency and to ensure there are no more delays. Our members have waited long enough. Legislate for secure hour contracts now.

Mandate condemn Dunnes Stores for continuing to ignore workers, despite regaining top retailer spot

Mandate Trade Union today (24th October 2018) have criticised Dunnes Stores for ignoring their workers’ basic demands, including their right to be represented by a trade union, despite their workers driving the company to the top of the retail sector in Ireland.

Mandate lodged a pay claim on behalf of their members in Dunnes Stores last May, which included:

  • A 3% pay rise
  • Secure working hours (banded hours) & more full time jobs
  • Pay equality – moving all members onto the highest existing hourly pay rate
  • Staff discount for all members

Since the claim was made, Mandate, which represents more than 3,000 workers in the company said that the company hadn’t even had the courtesy to respond to their workers’ demands.

Gerry Light, Mandate Assistant General Secretary said:

“Dunnes Stores now have 22.1% of the Irish grocery market, attaining the top spot. Not so long ago Dunnes Stores were in third place, and their progression is entirely down to their diligent workers who continue to be a credit to the business. Despite this, many are working in insecure positions, not knowing what they will be earning from week to week and often on very low rates of pay.”

He added, “We believe, with the growth in the prosperity of the business, and with management’s current capacity to address our members’ claim, now is the right time for management to sit down and negotiate with their workers through their representatives, Mandate.”

Dunnes Stores management refused to attend the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to deal with the pay and benefits claim.  In early September Mandate Trade Union escalated the claim to the Labour Court and are now awaiting a date for the hearing.

Mandate gives cautious welcome to publication of “banded hours” legislation

Well done to Mandate members for forcing government to publish legislation

Mandate Trade Union has today (Tuesday, 13th February 2018) cautiously welcomed the publication of the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 but says “significant amendments are needed if it is to address concerns of low hour contract workers.”

The aim of the Bill is to stop the exploitation of low hour contract workers and to allow all workers security over their hours and their incomes.

Brian Forbes, Mandate’s National Coordinator for Campaigns said: “Mandate members all across the country should feel very proud, particularly Dunnes Stores workers who started this debate when they took industrial action back in 2015. Our members have forced the government to this point through their political lobbying and pressure on TD’s all across the country.

He added, “While this draft of the Bill doesn’t go far enough, we now know exactly what flaws the Bill has and what amendments are needed.”

Mandate and the Decency for Dunnes Workers campaign have been calling on all TD’s to sign the Secure Hours = Better Future charter – which sets out the minimum standards needed in any legislation in order to ensure workers have secure hours and incomes.

The charter has six key demands, and to date, dozens of TD’s from all political parties have signed up to its demands.

Mr Forbes said: “On the day of the Dunnes Stores strike almost three years ago, all parties turned up to the picket lines. All TD’s – including the Taoiseach – stood up in the Dail and said they supported the Dunnes Stores workers in their quest for decency at work. Now, after too long of a delay, we are starting to see the finishing post and it’s important that we keep the pressure on.”

Mandate will be continuing to lobby TD’s across the country and if you would like to join one of the local lobbying teams, contact bforbes@mandate.ie

Secure Hours Article

Dunnes workers leading the charge against insecure work

Earlier this month the Irish government published draft legislation that has the potential to protect vulnerable low hour workers against exploitation by their employers.

The legislation itself isn’t perfect, and needs amendments to make it fit for purpose, but it is a small step towards improving employment standards, particularly in sectors where employers don’t necessarily treat their workers with the respect and dignity they deserve – including retail, bars, restaurants, academia and health, among other industries.

For best part of a decade Dunnes Stores workers and other retail and bar workers have been banging on Mandate’s door explaining how their hours are being arbitrarily cut, leading to a massive loss in income.

Members would often tell us how their employer is using low hour contracts to ensure they were kept compliant.

“When I complained about a fire exit being blocked by stacked pallets,” explained one member, “my manager told me I was being cut from 40 hours per week to 10 hours for six months.”

He added, “That meant I was down three quarters of my wage, more than €300 per week.”

There is nothing illegal in this. The workers’ contract states 10 hours as a minimum, so the manager has full discretion to cut it to the minimum with no recourse for the member.

To make matters worse for low hour and low paid workers, this cut can mean losing their entitlement to Family Income Supplement (FIS) because you need to work a minimum of 19 hours per week for three months in order to be eligible. If the employer spreads the hours over a number of days, the worker can also lose access to part-time social welfare because this is done on a day-to-day basis.

They can effectively manage you out of your job by ensuring you cannot feed and clothe your family or put a roof over your head. This is the disproportionate power an employer can have over their workers.

For three years now Mandate Trade Union has been lobbying to change legislation in order to outlaw this behaviour.

In 2015, Dunnes Stores workers went on strike to highlight these types of contracts.

Clonakilty

Dunnes Stores workers on strike highlighting insecure contracts of employment – Thursday, April 2nd 2015

 

Almost all political parties in the state joined the workers on the picket lines and the then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, expressed his support for the workers in the Dail when he said:

“I support the workers in their right to have clarity about their working lives. Therefore, the message to the employers is that this can be sorted out. These workers are loyal workers. They provide services every day of the week on a 24-hour basis. That should be recognised.”

Opposition leader Michael Martin (Fianna Fail) visited the St Stephens Green picket line and said:

“I endeavour to get the full Oireachtas behind the [Dunnes Stores] workers, in the name of common decency, and in the name of basic rights that these workers are entitled to.”

Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein Leader also expressed his party’s support:

“They [Dunnes Stores workers], and the 129,000 low-paid workers in this state, deserve certainty about their hours of work and income. They deserve secure jobs and they should get fair pay. And their right to trade union representation should be respected.”

Ruth Coppinger, from the Solidarity/PBP said:

“The Anti-Austerity Alliance and the Socialist Party fully support the strike action taken by Dunnes Stores workers across the country today. We are calling on people to support this important strike by not passing the pickets today and to stand in solidarity with the workers.”

Clare Daly, Independents4Change also put on the record her support:

“It is vital for all workers in Ireland that the Dunnes workers win this battle. Employers in this country need to be sent a clear message that we will not tolerate these unscrupulous work practices.”

So with all this political support, it’s hard to understand why two and a half years later, we still don’t have legislation protecting low hour workers from exploitation.

Sinn Fein’s David Cullinane tabled a piece of legislation in June 2016 which would have given the Dunnes workers and others the security of income and hours that they needed. This was delayed by Fianna Fail by 12 months, entered the Joint Oireachtas Committee for pre-legislative scrutiny, but has now been put into purgatory by the Ceann Coimhairle for political reasons.

The Labour Party tabled a Bill in the Seanad which was unanimously passed, but hasn’t progressed further.

But now the Government has published its own Bill, which is welcome, but it has a number of weaknesses.

The two key flaws are the lookback period of 18 months and the width of the bands of hours.

The University of Limerick report, which was commissioned by the government, is adamant that a six month look-back period should apply. The cross-party Joint Oireachtas Committee, as a compromise, stated that 12 months should apply. But now the government is saying that a worker cannot get security over their hours for at least 18 months. This is simply too long and will facilitate exploitation.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee also recommended that the gap between bands should be no greater than 5 hours. This would allow a level of flexibility for the employer, but crucially, some security of income for the employee. The Government’s Bill has much wider bands with one band being 11-24 hours. This means an employer could still effectively cut a workers’ income by 54 percent.

That’s why Mandate members are out in force lobbying their local TD’s. They are calling on all TD’s to support Mandate’s Secure Hours = Better Future Charter which has six key demands.

Catherine Martin

Nigel Bishop (Mandate activist, Supervalu), Catherine Martin TD (Green Party) and Lorna Dempsey (Mandate activist, Dealz)

Dunnes Stores, Dealz, Supervalu and Tesco workers among others have been visiting their local TD’s and asking them to sign the Charter. They’ve been explaining how important this is for low hour contract workers.

Lorna Dempsey, Mandate member and low hour contracts worker in Dealz in Dundrum said:

“We’ve been visiting TD’s in our constituency and asking them to support low hour contract workers. We explained to Catherine Martin TD from the Green Party that there are 1,200 Mandate members in her constituency, and each of them has family and friends who feel strongly about this issue.”

Ms Dempsey continued, “To be fair, I don’t think Deputy Martin realised the extent of these contracts and how difficult it can be to live on one of them.”

“They affect your mental health. You don’t know from week-to-week what your income is going to be so you don’t know if you’ll be able to pay your bills or feed your children.”

Ms Dempsey also explained to Deputy Martin how tackling these contracts would be good for the state.

“There are rogue employers out there who are abusing the system. Local managers can pick their friends to receive more hours and cut the hours of people they don’t like. This forces a lot of workers onto social welfare to receive top-up payment benefits – despite the fact many employers are making millions in profits. Why should the government have to pay top-up benefits when the employer can easily afford to pay the workers a decent wage?”

She added, “If companies like Tesco, Penneys, Supervalu and Marks & Spencer can give their workers security of income through banded hour’s structures negotiated with their workers’ union, then all retail outlets can.”

Ms Dempsey concluded by saying her local group will be meeting with Minister Shane Ross early in the new year to continue their lobbying campaign and demand that all TD’s support the Secure Hours = Decent Future campaign.

Mandate has now called on all members to lobby their local TD’s to ensure they sign up to the demands of the Secure Hours = Better Future charter.

Together we can make sure all workers have security over their incomes.

If you would like to join one of the local lobbying teams as they visit TD’s across the country, please email bforbes@mandate.ie or contact your local Mandate official.

Government publishes legislation covering security of hours (banded hours)

13th December 2017
To: All Mandate Members
From: John Douglas, General Secretary

Well done and congratulations to Mandate members regarding the publication last week of a government Bill which sets out a legally enforceable mechanism for greater security of working hours (banded hours). See link to Bill here.

The publication of this Bill is in no small part attributable to the ongoing campaigning by so many of our members – particularly in Dunnes Stores – towards securing legislation to protect workers affected by insecure hours contracts.

Whilst we celebrate the publication of this legislation, there is still much work to be done to get it passed by the Oireachtas and to influence certain amendments to improve on it. Two major changes we are seeking are:

  • Reduce the proposed hourly bands proposed to a maximum width of 5 hours
  • Shorten the ‘look back’ period for calculating average weekly hours to 12 months or less.

We must continue to scale up our lobbying efforts to make this happen. Please make every effort to contact your local TD’s and Senators by calling at their local constituency offices or clinics, phoning them or emailing them. And if you have not done so already sign the online petition here.

If you have any queries about the proposed legislation please contact your local Mandate office.

Update to Dunnes Members 24 Nov 2017

Sign the petition here

A Message from Gerry Light, Mandate Assistant General Secretary:

“Last week your Union launched the ‘Secure Hours – Better Future’ campaign calling on the Government to finally pass promised legislation for greater security over working hours.

As you know the Labour Court adjourned our case against Dunnes Stores for six months back in August pending the government introducing such legislation – not just for Dunnes workers but for all workers who fall under these forms of insecure hours contracts.

Your union is proud to be the main driving force behind these two initiatives and it is important to remember that both of them directly evolved out of our last national one day strike in 2015 and the ongoing Decency for Dunnes Workers campaign.

You and your fellow colleagues hard work has been instrumental in driving Dunnes to the top spot in the national grocery supermarket sector. For this reason alone you deserve to have greater security over your working hours, simply because at this time more than ever your employer can afford to do it.

While there is significant support from the general public and trade union movement for what we are seeking – we need to continue to put pressure on all of our legislators to act once and for all.

Local delegations to lobby TDs and Senators are being arranged through your Union in the coming days and weeks. We are asking all politicians to sign a pledge to support bringing legislation forward.

· You can support the campaign by participating in these local delegations.

· Contact your local TDs and Senators directly – urging them to get behind security of working hours legislation.

· Also support the campaign by signing the Secure Hours online petition which will be delivered to the Dail in December. The link can be found on the Dunnes workers.com and Mandate.com websites and Facebook pages. Please promote and share the petition to your co-workers, friends and family.

Finally, make sure to keep your Union strong in Dunnes by encouraging fellow colleagues who are not yet Mandate members to go to www.joinmandate.ie and join your Union. Acting together we can and will bring about the positive workplace changes that you and your fellow Union members not only desire, but actually deserve.

Thank you.”

 

Major Lobby Campaign Launched. Sign Our Petition and send a clear message to TD’s and Senators. Secure Hours Now!

Click Here To Sign Petition: https://my.uplift.ie/petitions/secure-hours-now

Retail workers call on TD’s and Senators to end insecure work. Please help vulnerable workers by signing the petition.

By signing the petition you will be sending a clear message to TD’s and Senators, who are elected to legislate on behalf of the people, that they must act now to put an end to exploitative and insecure employment practices. Future legislation to end zero hours and “if and when” employment must be comprehensive, robust and protect workers in precarious employment.

Click Here To Sign Petition: https://my.uplift.ie/petitions/secure-hours-now

“Secure Hours – Better Future”

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