IMPACT demands stronger union rights before 1913 lockout centenary

Wednesday 16th May 2012

The president of IMPACT trade union this evening (Wednesday) called on the Government to legislate to bring Irish collective bargaining rights up to international standards before next years centenary of the 1913 Dublin lockout.

Opening the union’s biennial conference in Killarney, county Kerry, this evening (Wednesday), Kevin O’Malley said it was “a national embarrassment” to have shortcomings in Irish collective bargaining rights criticised at the United Nations Human Rights Council, as they were last October. But he welcomed a subsequent undertaking by the Irish ambassador to the UN that the Government would legislate to make Irish law consistent with recent judgements of the European Court of Human Rights.

“That is welcome. But the Government keeps saying it will put this right. It’s in the Programme for Government. They’ve repeated the commitment in the Dáil in Dublin. They’ve repeated it at the UN. Now they need to get on with it and give it the priority it demands. Next year marks the centenary of the 1913 Dublin lockout. The central issue in that bitter dispute was the worker’s right to be represented by unions, including through collective bargaining. It is unthinkable that we would mark the centenary of that dispute, which helped change the course of Irish history, before the Government honours its commitment and brings Irish rights in line with international standards and rulings,” said Mr O’Malley.

“We have invited the Taoiseach to our conference on Friday (18th May). We will remind him that unions have stepped up to the challenges we have faced as a nation in these difficult years. And we will also call on him to fix the shameful and embarrassing legislative shortcomings that deny Irish workers the right to have their union negotiate for them,” he said, claiming Irish collective bargaining rights were “seriously out of line with most developed nations, international standards, and European legal judgements.”

Unions say that, to meet the Programme for Government commitment, Irish legislation needs to:

  • Give workers a legal right to join a union and to have the union effectively represent them
  • Outlaw victimisation or adverse treatment for joining a union or seeking to have it represent you
  • Safeguard against inducements designed to stop workers joining or being represented by a union and
  • Set out legal definitions and obligations over collective bargaining practices and facilities.

Last month, the International Labour Organisation’s Committee on Freedom of Association called on the Irish Government to review its legislation to ensure that international freedom of association and collective bargaining principles are respected in Irish law. This followed a complaint by IMPACT arising from the Supreme Court decision in the IMPACT-Ryanair case. Shortcomings in Irish collective bargaining rights were also criticised at the United Nations Human Rights Council last October, which led Ireland’s ambassador to the UN to confirm that the Programme for Government commitment on collective bargaining would he honoured.

Mr O’Malley also told conference delegates that the Croke Park agreement was delivering public service reforms. “These reforms don’t just happen and they can’t simply be imposed. Difficult as it is, the agreement is working because union activists and staff on the ground have rolled up their sleeves and done the difficult work of implementation. We’ve delivered on our commitment to Irish citizens that we will continue to deliver services, reduce costs and implement reform in a time of crisis. Not so long ago the phrase ‘public servant’ had been fashioned into a dirty word. Times and attitudes are changing. People have moved on. The communities we serve do not obsess about the differences between the public and private sectors. All they want of us is that public services are there when they need them. And together, that’s what we will continue to deliver,” he said.

Over 600 delegates are attending the conference of the 63,000-strong union in Killarney over the next two days.