Trade Union Representation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2018: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Trade Union Act 1941 and the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001 to confer on authorised unions the right to have their representative duties to their members for collective bargaining and disciplinary matters recognised by employers and to provide for related matters.

This is the seventh Bill that Sinn Féin has introduced to strengthen workers' rights. The right to belong to a trade union is a fundamental human right recognised by the United Nations and the European Union and can only be realised through collective bargaining between employers and unions. However, a right is not a right unless it is recognised as such in law. This State has a voluntary system of collective bargaining. While that has brought some benefits and works in certain circumstances, it does not work for everyone, including employees of companies that do not accept or recognise the trade unions involved. There have been too many examples of large and profitable companies not recognising trade unions and dictating to their workforces who should or should not represent them. That is not fair. In a court case, it would be like an opponent having a veto over who should represent the other side. We would not tolerate that in a legal scenario and we should not tolerate it in the world of industrial relations.

We have good industrial relations machinery in the State and some moves have been made in recent times to ensure that all sides are at least involved in any mediation or court hearing on achieving resolutions. However, a worker should have the right not only to join a trade union, as is the case currently, but to be represented by that trade union. Trade unionists are skilled people who can represent those who are not in a position to represent themselves or do not have the means to employ barristers, solicitors and so on. After people join trade unions and pay fees, trade union representatives give them the support they need if and when a conflict arises in the workplace.

We must bring ourselves into line with the majority of states in the EU and around the world in ensuring that workers have the right not only to join a trade union, but to bargain collectively and be represented by their trade unions.

Too many Bills on workers' rights that we have introduced have been knocked back by the Government. As an Teachta Adams stated, this and the previous Taoiseach always said that they wanted solutions from the Opposition but, when we provided any, they would not accept what was progressive, relevant and necessary legislation on protecting workers because they did not like it or were ideologically opposed to workers' rights.

Before I hand over to my colleague, an Teachta Munster, to conclude, I call on the Government to support this Bill when we move it in Private Members' time.

A successful employment rights infrastructure is one that operates on the basis of equality and a level playing field between workers and their employers. One cannot claim to support the right of workers to collectively bargain if one does not support the right to trade union recognition because both are inextricably linked. This Bill will give practical effect to the right of workers to be represented by a trade union. It will make it a legal right that must be respected by employers. The current voluntary system works for some but for many, it fails. Everyone here is aware of the rise in low-paid and precarious work and in zero-hour or low-hour contracts. We also know that this is a deliberate practice and is part of the race to the bottom. We have seen the ongoing practice of replacing reasonably paid workers on decent contracts with lower paid workers on inferior contracts. This is done by denying the right to trade union representation within the workplace. Why do employers do this? They do it because they can. We have seen it happening in the financial services, hospitality, retail and many other sectors. We have also seen some employers engaging in campaigns of bullying and harassment. Those who seek to bully and who ignore industrial relations laws and mechanisms do so to protect their interests while exploiting their employees. They are denying workers their right to choose who should represent them. There is not a level playing field between workers and employers but this Bill seeks to correct that.

Those who value their employees have absolutely nothing to fear from strengthened labour laws. Last month Ryanair finally accepted the principles that are outlined in this Bill when it agreed to engage with unions for the first time ever. Now is the time for this Bill so that ordinary workers will have the right to choose who should represent them in their workplace, both for collective bargaining and disciplinary matters and to have that right recognised by their employers. This Republic is only a republic in name if we do not protect the rights of our citizens and central to that protection are the rights of workers in the workplace.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.