The already precarious working conditions of many frontline and essential staff deteriorated further during the pandemic, a new EU report has found.
The report, which highlights issues around a lack of statutory sick pay, a living wage, and affordable childcare services, found that the privatisation of nursing homes has "undermined the standard of care and actually endangered workers".
The Government has now been urged to take action to support frontline workers, including measures around collective bargaining, after the report revealed that many vital staff in healthcare, delivery services, and meat plants were put at further risk because of precarious working situations.
The report, compiled for a committee of the European Parliament, has found that nursing homes became "breeding grounds" during the pandemic and this was exacerbated by workers "social invisibility, the lack of sick pay, the lack of childcare, frequent lack of training and crowded living conditions".
While nurses and doctors experienced burnout, these groups and others represented by trade unions "were socially recognised and had collective voice".
"Conversely, those areas where the disease spread rapidly were areas where working conditions deteriorated."
"Both these sectors are dominated by immigrants and in addition, almost all staff in nursing homes are female," the revaluation of working conditions and wages for essential workers report compiled for the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs states.
The study states it is "important to notice" that Ireland remains almost the only country in the Western World where there is no right to union bargaining.
"An over-arching legal change is necessary to bring Ireland into line with European norms that recognise and anchor bargaining rights and make the country consistent with the pledges of the European Pillar of Social Rights," the document states.
"It is clear that that health precautions (especially social distancing) were not enforced.
The high incidence of the disease was exacerbated by poor working conditions, shared accommodation and common travel to work. Without union representation, workers here were voiceless," the review finds.
Louise O'Reilly, Sinn Féin's spokesperson on workers rights, described the findings as "stark" and said the report shows the disparity between unionised and non-unionised workplaces.
"There is a serious issue with people who are on low wages and these are the same people who have to pay high rents, who can't afford private health insurance and are on waiting lists, they are the ones who are sharing the room, who are living in overcrowded accommodation and they're the ones least likely to be trade union members and to have a mechanism to vindicate their own rights at work."