Many Irish workers are being paid less than they need to live on because of government rules that favour employers, while their rights to fight against this are unfairly limited, according to labour rights report.
The State is legally bound to respect a range of measures, from fair wages and working hours to safety and trade union membership, under the Euroepan Social Charter.
However, it failed 11 of 22 measures it signed up to in the labour section of the charter when assessed by the Council of Europe — the rights body that is separate from the EU.
Ireland’s treatment of its most vulnerable workers in some instances was found to be on a par with some of Europe’s poorest countries, such as Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), commenting on the report, said the Government tended to view such workers rights as impediments to business and obstacles to investment.
“They are not, they are basic rights that attest to the health and equality of a society,” said an ICTU source.
It highlighted the system that allows employers to pay a sub-minimum hourly wage to adults for the first two years in their first job and to those said to be training.
ICTU legislation and social affairs office Esther Lynch said sub-minimum rates were introduced to compensate employers for taking on people who were a long time out of work and may need training to increase their level of productivity over the first month or two.
“It was based on the employer providing training but has ended up as an automatic payment no matter what their productivity is,” said Ms Lynch.
The report found that workers could not in reality refuse to allow employers to take money from their wages for things such as meals, training, uniforms, and other ‘costs’.
The result, it said, was that workers with the lowest pay did not have enough to ensure a decent standard of living for them or their dependents.
“For a lot of people the deductions can be severe and there are a lot of bad practices,” said Ms Lynch. “We have had a case where a worker in a chip shop was deducted €5 a day for chips — including when they were on holidays.
“This pretence that workers can negotiate the clauses of their contracts is a fantasy. There is a huge imbalance between worker and employer especially when their is big unemployment”.
Increased pay for overtime was not guaranteed to all workers, the council found in its 46-page report.
This, said Ms Lynch, allows employers to keep people on zero contracts of just 8 hours when in fact they call on them to work at least 20 hours a week.
“More and more are doing this, and not just in low-paid jobs but also in professional jobs such as nursing,” said Ms Lynch. “It gives the employer flexibility and puts all the risk onto the employee.”
The report, which was critical of the Government’s delay in submitting its report, also noted overlong working hours and days without rest; inadequate compensation for workers exposed to health risks; inadequate quit notice; allowing workers to be fired for joining trade unions, including the gardaí; and the illegal ban on gardaí striking and on taking part in pay agreement discussions.
Tom Healy of the Nevin Economic Research Institute said the report shows the minimum wage falls short of ensuring a living wage.
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