Siptu conference: Union vows to stand up for vulnerable workers

Gene Mealy, Siptu vice president; Jack O'Connor, Siptu president; and Joe O'Flynn, Siptu generalsecretary. Picture: Jim Coughlan

Siptu president Jack O’Connor has said up to 400,000 people across the economy are on low pay and that those people are most likely to be on zero hours or insecure contracts and in “precarious work”.

The union yesterday launched its Campaign for Decent Work, which will be funded by revenue from the union’s recovering membership.

As part of the new initiative, Siptu intends to put use organisers on the ground to educate people in vulnerable sectors, such as retail, hospitality, and the caring sectors, on their employment rights.

Furthermore the union will be encouraging people in affected workplaces to organise themselves and those around them so that together they would have greater leverage to seek their entitlements. The union will also be opening workers’ rights centres across the country.

The Siptu president said it is estimated that 30% of the workforce, or 400,000 people, are paid rates of pay which are lower than the Eurostat statistically recognised level of low pay, which is two thirds of the median wage.

“It is generally true as well that people in this category are also the people who are most likely to be on zero hours contracts, on insecure contracts, in precarious work of one type or another,” he said.

Mr O’Connor said the campaign entailed recognising that trade unions had a responsibility to invest as much money as they could in encouraging vulnerable workers to organise themselves, assert their rights and try to enhance the security of their jobs and their conditions of employment.

“And to make those investments in the knowledge that a large proportion of the great majority of those people will not become members of unions, at least for a long time,” he said. “The subscriptions that will be raised through their memberships will never repay in monetary terms, the amount of money the union will invest in it.”

Meanwhile, the conference has heard a claim that public hospitals are retaining staff’s pension payments for up to a year after they retire. Broc Delaney, a member of the union’s health division and of its national executive council, said twice or three times a month, he was hearing of incidents whereby hospitals held on to pension monies to use it as working capital.

The union backed a motion calling on its national executive council to “confront the Department of Health and the HSE on their continued failure to pay our members their full pension entitlements and all outstanding pay on their confirmed retirement date”.

“This would end the hardship currently being experienced by members through non payment of their full pension entitlements for periods exceeding a year in some cases,” the motion concluded.

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