Trade Union Recognition Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide a legal mechanism for trade union recognition for workers who comprise at least 20 per cent of the employees in an employment (or any category within that employment).

I thank my fellow People Before Profit Deputies and the staff who worked on this Bill, particularly Owen McCormack. I thank the union activists and organisers who were involved in union recognition struggles and have supported the Bill so far, including the Irish Air Line Pilots' Association, the Psychiatric Nurses Association ambulance branch, Game Workers Unite and more. I thank the workers in Amazon, Facebook and other major companies, who have blown the whistle on conditions there and begun to organise, many of whom remain anonymous for fear of retribution by their boss.

We launched the Bill on Saturday, May Day, which was International Workers' Day, to highlight the ongoing fight for union recognition and workers' rights. The truth is that in this country the laws are stacked in favour of the bosses against the workers. One particular way this happens is the model of so-called voluntarist industrial relations the Government lauds. The bottom line of that is workers may have the right to join a trade union but companies have no obligation whatsoever to deal with any union of workers no matter how many workers are in a union. This People Before Profit Bill would end that once and for all by giving workers a right to unionise and requiring the bosses to recognise and engage with the union. It would force anti-union companies to finally recognise unions and remove their veto.

We need strong and fighting trade unions in this country to take on the bosses and the billionaires, and this Bill would be an important step in assisting workers to get organised. We need strong militant unions to fight for workers' rights. In recent decades we have seen the undermining of many rights that have been won by workers. Unions have been weakened by regressive industrial relations law, attacks by employers, a neoliberal offensive and the shift among many union leaders from the class struggle approach which built the unions to a so-called partnership model. One consequence is the decline of the share of income going to workers, which reduced from 55% in 1970 to less than 40% today.

The gig economy has seen the reintroduction of the same sorts of casualisation and job insecurity unions were formed to resist. The hours of almost one in ten workers in Ireland vary significantly from week to week or month to month and almost half of all young workers are on temporary contracts. Low pay is rife, with one in five workers earning less than two thirds of median earnings, one of the worst in the EU. Another one in ten workers experiences bullying or harassment in the workplace. In general, workers here work longer hours, have fewer holidays and have less protection against dismissal than their European counterparts. We need to build a strong and fighting trade union movement to improve wages and conditions for workers and to push back against this race to the bottom.

I want to make a particular reference to Amazon, an anti-union employer this Bill would tackle. Amazon workers are beginning to organise in Ireland and across the globe. This Bill would give them a leg up in their efforts. Amazon is one of the world's biggest companies. It is one of the big winners from the pandemic, with CEO Jeff Bezos's worth going from an incredible $100 billion dollars before the pandemic to now being worth more than $200 billion. That is wealth that has been created and taken from the 1.3 million people who work for Amazon. Warehouse workers in the US have such poor entitlements to bathroom breaks that they have been reduced to peeing in bottles. This company spends millions on union busting to stop the workers getting organised for their rights because they know a strong union would challenge Amazon's anti-worker policies. We have been supporting Amazon workers here, who are organising, and they have backed this Bill, as it gives them a leg up in their campaign. They are urging all parties in the Dáil to support it and to support them in their fight.

Finally, I want to touch on the ESB strike, as union recognition is an important part of it. ESB Networks workers are on strike throughout this country, fighting against outsourcing and creeping privatisation of the electricity network, and against the company's refusal to engage at all with or to consult their union of choice, the Independent Workers Union, IWU. This is a publicly owned company refusing point blank to talk to the workers' union. The Psychiatric Nurses Association's, PNA's, ambulance workers in the National Ambulance Service Representative Association, NASRA, faced a similar pig-headed response from the HSE. Bosses should not have a veto on what union workers join. This Bill would scrap that veto once and for all and force the bosses to recognise and engage with unions which represent 20% or more of the workforce.

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.