May Day is international workers’ day. It was born of the struggles of workers globally for an eight-hour day, initially in Australia in 1856, then spreading to the USA, and worldwide. It was a time when workers regularly worked 14 hour days, in extremely dangerous conditions.
Workers are still being denied their full rights. Today we must fight low pay, precarious work contracts and growth in work intensity. Almost half of the working 15 to 24 years old were on temporary roles on the eve of the pandemic in eurozone countries.
At the moment, Ireland’s laws are extremely unfavourable for workers. While every worker has the right to join a trade union, there is no obligation on the company to deal with them. One result is that only one-third of workers in Ireland are covered by collective bargaining, a very low figure by European standards.
In the South, People Before Profit is introducing our Trade Union Recognition Bill next Wednesday to change that. It would provide a legal mechanism for trade union recognition for workers who make up at least 20% of employees in any workforce. It would compel the employer to negotiate with the workers’ trade union and provide access for trade union representatives to the workplace.
In the North People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll’s private member’s bill – the Trade Union Freedom Bill – will strengthen workers rights by stripping out Thatcher-era legislation. The power to change these laws has been devolved to the Stormont Assembly for more than 20 years but none of the Executive parties has sought to undo them. Getting rid of Thatcher’s anti-trade union laws is key to protecting workers rights today.