Potential 20,000 daily personal interactions in sector
July 12th: Unite, which represents driving instructors throughout Ireland, today (Sunday) warned that both instructors and learners could be at risk unless rigorous safety protocols are developed which take account of conditions specific to the sector. The union has written to Transport Minister Eamon Ryan highlighting instructors’ concerns, pointing out that they were not consulted prior to being included in Phase 3 of the re-opening ‘roadmap’, and asking the Minister to facilitate engagement between all stakeholders in order to develop sector-specific safety protocols.
Commenting, Unite Regional Officer Jean O’Dowd said:
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing have focused attention on the challenges faced by different sectors in keeping those providing and using services safe.
“Driving instructors face particular issues given that their work is carried out within the small enclosed space of a car, and involves close interaction with learners. Our members estimate that there could be up to 20,000 personal interactions in the sector every day. Both the confined space and the close interaction pose an obvious risk for both instructors and users.
“Unite has written to Minister Eamon Ryan highlighting these issues and asking him to facilitate engagement between all stakeholders in the sector to develop safety protocols which will keep everyone safe and ensure that the sector does not contribute to spreading the virus.
“We are now at a critical juncture in our management of this emergency, and workers must be fully involved in developing safe working practices to protect all of us”, Ms O’Dowd concluded.
Unite accuses company of failing to engage and breaching agreement
July 8th: Unite, which represents workers at Drogheda magnesia plant Premier Periclase, has announced that its members are set to take strike action from Monday July 20th.
Commenting, Unite Regional Officer Willie Quigley said:
“Despite a long-standing collective agreement, management have not meaningfully engaged with us on their proposals for what they have called a ‘Temporary Shut-down of the Plant’.
“The company proposes to lay off our members or put them on reduced hours, while transferring work to non-union labour and retaining contractors on site.
“We have made a number of unsuccessful attempts to avoid arriving at this point. However, management did not seem interested in meaningful discussion on issues surrounding the ‘temporary shutdown’. As a result our members have voted to take strike action from Monday July 20th.
“Unite remains available for meaningful engagement”, Mr Quigley concluded.
Members of Unite give coalition a ‘slow clap’; say workers were “applauded then abandoned” by those who promised a “lasting appreciation”
July 2nd: Members of Unite Trade Union held a short rally outside Dáil Éireann today (Thursday), highlighting how workers have been forgotten about in the so-called ‘new normal’. This was followed by a sarcastic ‘slow clap’ for the new coalition Government which remarkably, managed to leave a workers’ rights agenda out of its Programme for Government almost entirely.
There have been lessons for workers in the last few weeks, starting with the treatment of the Debenhams workers who could only be exploited because successive Governments failed to close a legal loophole which had already caused untold misery for workers in Clery’s, GAME, La Senza and Vita Cortex (to name a few). Speaking this morning Jane Crowe Shop Steward at Debenhams Henry St said:
“We are striking now for around 6 weeks now, our future and our families futures are on the line, we still have a lot of fight left in us and we will keep going until the bitter end’
Further to this, last week’s landmark High Court ruling on the constitutionality of Sectoral Employment Orders could have very serious implications for tens of thousands of construction workers.
Speaking ahead of today’s event, Unite Regional Officer Tom Fitzgerald said:
“The government must immediately seek a stay on the orders contained in the Court decision and then appeal the rulings to the Supreme Court. Should there be any obstacles to either course of action, robust emergency legislation must be brought forward to protect the terms and conditions contained in the SEOs.”
Health & Safety is now a major concern for workers and Unite’s Hospitality and Tourism spokesperson Julia Marciniak pointed out, “While there has been no shortage of industry voices seeking to trivialise important public health advice by forcing debates on the merits of social distancing, many workers are being forced back into working arrangements in which they are afraid, at-risk and have been denied consultation.”
Unite Community is demanding that the new government take into account the urgent need for a new Charter for Workers, one that places the health and safety of workers, and their right to be represented by a trade union, at the heart of any roadmap for recovery.
Hospitality bosses are warned that large-scale job losses will result in a mass exodus of skilled workers from sector
Unite survey showed that 71 percent of hospitality workers would not return to the industry if made redundant
Against a backdrop of fears that up to a 20,000 hospitality workers in Northern Ireland could be made jobless by August, Unite has issued a letter warning of potential litigation to Hastings Hotels, one of the region’s biggest hotel chains.
The letter questions whether proposals for mass redundancies are lawful, when furlough under the government’s Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme is still available and the union has warned that it will not shy away from issuing more legal challenges to hospitality bosses.
Neil Moore, Unite Organiser for the Hospitality sector said:
“Within minutes of Economy Minister Diane Dodds announcing dates for the reopening of the hospitality sector, while standing on steps of a Hastings Hotel, workers for the same group received notice that they faced potential redundancy.
“Union members at Hastings have reported to Unite that they feel there is a lack of meaningful engagement regarding potential redundancies and not enough is being done to avoid job losses. Workers cannot understand why jobs are under threat now given the ongoing available subvention from HMRC until October.
“The union has warned that the industry risks a mass exodus of skills from the sector which will make the recovery more difficult. A straw poll of 400 Unite members working in hospitality and at risk of redundancy revealed that 71 per cent will not return to work to the industry, and that 63 per cent would not recommend hospitality as a career choice for school leavers”, Mr Moore concluded.
June 24th: Members of Unite’s Regional Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAEM) Committee have expressed solidarity with all those saying “Black Lives Matter!” in Ireland and around the world. Pointing out that the global response to the killing of George Floyd by police in the United States has highlighted racism in Ireland and elsewhere, union activists are determined to build on the current momentum to combat institutional racism:
Committee chair Memet Uludağ said:
“The Black Lives Matter response to the killing of George Floyd has rapidly spread beyond the United States, and the past two weeks have seen numerous manifestations of solidarity throughout the island of Ireland. While racism is deeply embedded in US society, we in Ireland also have systematic state racism and discrimination that manifests itself in different forms, from discriminatory policing of Black and ethnic minority people to the deeply inhumane – and racist – Direct Provision System in the Republic.
“The Black Lives Matter movement is educating all of us in understanding racism today, as people are making links between slavery in the past and the systematic nature of modern day racism.”
Committee member Muhammad Al-Hussaini added: “This is an historic opportunity for the labour movement in both the Republic and Northern Ireland to speak and act in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters in the United States and worldwide. At the same time, the Irish labour movement must engage with the endemic discrimination against the Irish travelling community, as well as more recent Black and ethnic minority arrivals who have made Ireland their home. This is a time to engage self-critically and remove the statues and idols of prejudice in our own minds”.
Looking beyond the protests, Memet Uludağ said:
“Solidarity events in Ireland have sent a strong message of unity against all forms of racism. There is also a growing determination that politicians must not be allowed to condemn racism while implementing discriminatory and racist policies.
“Trade unions play an important role in the fight against racism. As noted by Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey, we need to take further steps to build on anti-racism within Unite and the wider trade union movement, and ensure that the voices of Black and ethnic minority union members are heard and acted upon. As in every area of life, there can be nothing about us, without us”, Memet Uludağ concluded.
Decision threatens workers and economic recovery
Unite will use all means to protect and advance workers’ terms and conditions
June 24th: Trade union Unite, which represents workers throughout the construction sector, today (Wednesday) said that the Government must immediately seek a stay on the orders proposed in yesterday’s High Court decision striking down the electrical Sectoral Employment Order and then appeal the the ruling to the Supreme Court. Pointing out that the decision has implications for tens of thousands of workers whose terms and conditions are governed by SEOs, Unite Regional Officer Tom Fitzgerald warned that the ruling posed a significant threat to Ireland’s economic recovery and said that Unite would use all means at its disposal to protect and advance workers’ interests.
“The Government must immediately seek a stay on the order proposed in yesterday’s High Court decision and then appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court. Should there be any obstacles to either course of action, robust emergency legislation must be brought forward to protect the terms and conditions contained in the SEOs.
“At a time when Ireland is facing into an unprecedented economic crisis, yesterday’s decision threatens the incomes of tens of thousands and workers and thus puts our economic recovery at risk.
“Crucially, the absence of Sectoral Employment Orders would also mean that, for the first time in over 50 years, in huge sections of the construction sector there would be no constraints, beyond existing industrial relations legislation, on workers taking industrial action to defend themselves. Such a situation would pose a considerable threat to many employers. In that scenario, Unite is confident in our ability to defend our members’ terms and conditions using all means at our disposal”, Mr Fitzgerald warned.
Unions warn that unilateral action will undermine airline’s recovery
June 20th: Unite Regional Officer Willie Quiqley, who chairs the Craft Group of Unions at Aer Lingus, has written to Aer Lingus management seeking an immediate meeting in light of the company’s decision to unilaterally ‘lapse’ the Covid 19 Recovery Plan 2020 ‘Understanding’ and move to forced implementation of changes and layoffs.
Aer Lingus’ decision followed their refusal to allow craft unions time to ballot on the company’s proposals, while at the same time affording another grade of worker three weeks to consult and ballot. These actions by management have created a huge amount of anger among members along with a high level of mistrust of management.
“Any unilateral action will undermine the company’s prospects for recovery as we emerge from the pandemic.
“Aer Lingus appears intent on tearing up the industrial relations practices which have been developed over decades and contributed significantly to the company’s success.
“The Craft Group of Unions has written to Aer Lingus management seeking an immediate meeting and we look forward to an early reply and meaningful engagement with the company”, Mr Quigley concluded.
Provision must be made for those who cannot return to work due to health or childcare concerns
Responding to this evening’s announcement that the hairdressing sector is to re-open from June 29th, three weeks earlier than initially planned, trade union Unite – which represents hairdressers throughout Ireland – said that employers need to engage collectively with workers to develop an agreed Covid-19 safety protocol before salons re-open. The union also called on employers to facilitate those employees who are unable to return to work at the end of the month due to underlying health conditions or lack of childcare provision. Commenting, Regional Officer Brendan Byrne said:
“While our members are keen to return to work, they need to be assured that both they and their clients will be safe in circumstances where close contact is unavoidable. Unite is also aware of workers who have underlying health conditions, or family members with such conditions, and therefore do not feel safe returning to work. There are also many workers in the sector who will be unable to make childcare arrangements between now and June 29th.
“Employers have not been in contact with Unite regarding re-opening, and the only safety information we have is a document published by the Irish Hairdressing Federation earlier this month. Before salons re-open, a sector-specific safety protocol will have to be agreed between employers, workers and the relevant government agencies. In this regard, Unite would welcome contact from employers’ representatives.
“In addition, hairdressing workers who cannot return due to underlying health conditions affecting themselves or their families, or who are unable to make childcare arrangements, must be maintained on current income supports.
“The best way to ensure that the hairdressing sector recovers quickly is for employers to engage collectively with their workers on all aspects of the re-opening”, Brendan Byrne concluded.
June 19th: Unite, which represents workers in all sectors throughout Ireland, has said that the draft programme for government negotiated by Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party would see Ireland continuing to be run in a manner that puts private interests above the public good. In a statement issued today (Friday), the union’s Senior Officer in the Republic of Ireland, Brendan Ogle, said:
“The draft Programme for Government represents a plan to continue to run our country in a manner that puts private interests above the public good. In addition to the complete betrayal of any pretence to deliver workers’ rights that meet international norms, the Programme commits to Ireland continuing to act as an international tax haven. Ireland will continue to be a safe haven for those who want to contribute nothing, and a daily drudge for those working and paying to improve their lives and our society.
“We have the lowest standard of workers and union rights in our peer group. Negotiators for Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party are happy to keep it that way.
“Apart from the betrayal of workers, including the frontline workers who have been hailed as heroes during this pandemic, the proposals on healthcare are actually shocking. Rather than learn the obvious lesson we need a single tier public health system based on need, not means, the Programme enshrines a right to ‘retain access to private health services, ensuring choice for those accessing health care.’ People on low incomes have no such ‘choice’.
“Putting profit and ‘choice’ before the nation’s health is exactly what left us completely unprepared to face this pandemic. If the pursuit of profit is what is driving our basic right to healthcare (and it is), it is clear what the agenda of this proposed new Government is – further division, inequality, poverty and death.
“This programme is shameful”, Mr Ogle concluded.
New Government parties must firm up on programme commitments to Midlands
Workers must be central to proposed Just Transition Commission
June 17th: Responding to the news that Bord na Mona is to suspend peat harvesting, trade union Unite – which represents craft and administrative grades in the company – said today (Wednesday) that workers need a clear roadmap illustrating how jobs and incomes will be continue to be protected as Bord na Mona exits out of peat. Unite welcomed Bord na Mona’s commitment in writing to the GOU that no jobs will be lost as a result of the announcement, and said it is now up to the parties forming the likely incoming Government to firm up on the commitments to the Midlands in the Programme for Government published on Monday.
Regional Officer Colm Quinlan said:
“While the exit from peat harvesting marks the end of an era in the Midlands, our focus must now be on ensuring security of employment and earnings going forward.
“As members of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party consider the Programme for Government, Bord na Mona workers and their families want to know how the parties will implement the commitment to “ensure that the Just Transition in the Midlands works inclusively” and that “vulnerable families and communities are protected”.
Regional Officer Ed Thompson added:
“Translating those aspirations into security for workers and communities requires a roadmap detailing projected jobs numbers while ensuring security of employment and earnings.
“The Bord na Mona Group of Unions believes that, as a matter of urgency, all parties should conclude an industrial relations agreement that will lead to job security and the retention of current earnings for existing workers by utilising voluntary redundancy and redeployment where necessary. Such an agreement should set out clear timelines on an annual basis over the next five years for transitional plans, allied to the Just Transition process.
“The Programme for Government notes that the exit from peat in the Midlands is the first test of Just Transition.
“If the parties forming the next Government are to pass this test, workers must be fully involved in the de-carbonisation process. .
Concluding, Colm Quinlan said:
“Bord na Mona workers have a wealth of expertise and experience which can inform the transition to a new low-carbon digital economy, ensuring that communities are not left behind. Workers and their representatives must be central to the proposed new statutory Just Transition Commission, and we look forward to the parties to the incoming Government giving a firm commitment in this regard”, Mr Quinlan concluded.
Frequently Asked Questions – UPDATED 05 June 2020
The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) situation continues to evolve and Unite will continue updating our advice as dictated by circumstances.
The measures announced by the Government in March resulted in widespread business closures, layoffs and job losses affecting many Unite members. The measures also meant that more people have working from home in challenging circumstances.
On Monday June 8th, the second phase of the Government’s ‘Roadmap’ (accelerations announced on June 5th) will see additional workplaces, re-open while remote working will continue to be encouraged where possible. This follows the first phase of re-opening on May 18th, which saw many construction workers – including many Unite members – return to work. The information below has been updated to reflect ongoing developments.
Unite is endeavouring to maintain our service to members during this unprecedented health emergency. In order to facilitate social distancing in line with public health guidelines, our offices remain closed to public visitors until further notice.
If you require assistance, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below, please find information on some questions you may have as a worker affected by the COVID-19 emergency. We will continue updating this FAQ on a rolling basis as the situation develops. The current version incorporates announcements made on June 5th. As well as the general information below, please scroll down for specific Health & Safety information.
As we prepare for workplaces to re-open (see current schedule below), Unite, together with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, is continuing to engage with Government and employers in different sectors to ensure the safety of our members, and to protect their terms and conditions going forward. The Return to Work Safely Protocol is available for download here. Unite will continue advocating for increased enforcement resources and powers to ensure that the the Protocol is fully implemented by all employers.
On a broader level, Unite and the wider trade union movement are determined to ensure that working people, their families and communities do not pay the price for any economic recession when we emerge from this emergency. In this regard, click here to download our policy document Hope or Austerity: A Road Map for a Better Fairer Ireland after the Pandemic. The policies in that document fed into ICTU’s recent report, No Going Back: A New Deal towards a Safe and Secure Future for All, which is available here.
A PDF of this document is available here.
Please note that this information only applies to the Republic of Ireland.
What if I fall sick and/or need to self-isolate?
If you feel you may have COVID-19, or may need to self-isolate as a result of COVID-19, the first thing you should do is phone your GP and self-isolate in line with HSE advice. Your GP will assess you and decide if a test for COVID-19 is necessary.
* DO NOT GO TO YOUR GP IN PERSON *
If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, or a GP has certified that you need to self-isolate, you need to inform your employer and adhere to any employment sick pay policy in place. You then need to apply for Illness Benefit. An enhanced Illness Benefit of €350 per week has been agreed for COVID-19 related cases. To be eligible for this payment you must be confined to your home or a medical facility. This payment, which is also available to members of a household who have to self-isolate in connection with COVID-19, is available from the first day of illness. The enhanced Illness Benefit arrangements will now continue in force until 19 June.
What if I am working from home?
On Friday 27 March the Government issued an instruction to people to stay at home and to only travel to and from work if providing an essential service as specified here. Despite the phased return to work, this inevitably means that many Unite members are either working from home, have been placed on layoff or rendered unemployed (further information on your rights in the event of layoff/job loss is below).
If you are working from home at your employer’s instruction, your employer must pay you your usual wage. Confirm with your employer that this is the case before agreeing to work from home.
Revenue has made provisions for these people to be reimbursed for work-related expenses, such as heating, electricity and possibly broadband expenses.
An employer can pay €3.20 tax-free (without PAYE, PRSI or USC being deducted) a day to their employee to cover additional costs involved in working from home. It is important to note that there is no legal obligation on your employer to make such a payment.
Even if your employer does not make this payment, you will still be eligible for tax relief on such expenses. Such claims would need to be supported by evidence in the form of receipts, and you may be required to produce a letter from your employer confirming that you have been working from home.
What if I want to continue working from home during this period?
While the widespread closures referenced above mean that many people still have to work from home, there will be other workers who can return to their workplaces under the ‘Roadmap, but who wish to work from home during this period in order to mind children during the period of school closure or for other health, personal or family reasons. You should approach the company and request to be facilitated in that regard. It is at your employer’s discretion whether or not to grant that request but they should be cognisant of public health as well as Government advice and instructions.
It may be that your presence is necessary for only some of the normal working week when particular tasks need to be performed. If so, it may be worthwhile highlighting this fact to your employer. Given the ‘stay-at-home’ order announced on 27 March, with the exception of workplaces specified in the different phases of the ‘Roadmap’, attendance may otherwise expose you and your employer to criminal sanction.
When will workplaces be re-opening?
On 1 May, the Government published its ‘Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business’ which included a schedule for the reopening of workplaces in different sectors. This started on May 18th, and on June 5th it was announced that the Roadmap would be accelerated as indicated below, with further adjustments possible.
What if my employer asks me to attend work, but I don’t feel safe doing so?
Your employer must abide by the Return to Work Safety Protocol, which is available here. Under the 2005 Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act, workers must report a hazard or danger to their employer in the first instance. If an employee leaves the workplace because of an emergency, or because of serious and imminent danger, they cannot suffer any detriment as a result. Further information on the Act is available from the Health and Safety Authority here.
What if I have been placed on lay off – and my employer is operating the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme?
Government-ordered closures of businesses, as well as reduced demand in some sectors due to the pandemic, have resulted in a significant number of lay-offs.
The Government has asked those employers who have ceased trading to continue to pay workers during this period; this measure is intended to retain the link between workers and their employers.
A wage subsidy scheme was established providing that the Government would pay relevant employers 70 per cent of a workers’ salary (after tax) – up to maximum of €410 per week – in respect of workers who would otherwise have been laid off. This Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, which employers may top up, is intended to ensure that workers retain their link with employers and they do not have to submit a jobseeker claim. This scheme replaced the COVID-19 Refund Scheme announced on 15 March, and is now scheduled to last until the end of August.
On 15 April, changes to the Temporary Wage Subsidy scheme were announced which primarily addressed anomalies which had become apparent at the higher and lower ends of the earnings spectrum. The Scheme has now moved from the ‘transitional’ to the ‘operational’ phase.
Operation of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme:
The following new rates will apply to payroll submitted from 4 May with a pay date on or after that date until the end of the scheme. (No backdating of the revised rates prior to 4 May will apply.)
Employees previously earning up to €586 net per week
Employees previously earning over €586 net per week
A comprehensive FAQ on the Wage Subsidy Scheme is available here.
What if my employer is operating the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, but is refusing to pay the top up in respect of public holidays?
Payment for public holidays is generally subject to the 1997 Organisation of Working Time Act, and Unite would argue that if an employer is topping up the Temporary Wage Subsidy they should also do so in respect of public holidays. However, given that the Act did not envisage the current circumstances, an employer may argue that they are not obliged to pay the top up – which is at the employer’s discretion – in respect of public holidays. Any disputes in this regard would need to be raised by way of a formal grievance in the first instance and thereafter to the Adjudication Services of the Workplace Relations Commission.
What if I am returning from Maternity Leave?
At the end of May, following pressure from unions and civil society organisations, the Government rectified an anomaly whereby women returning from unpaid maternity leave – as well as people previously on paternity leave, adoptive leave illness benefit or off-pay leave – were ineligible for the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme since they had not been paid in January or February, the calculation basis for the Scheme. These categories of people will now be eligible for the Scheme. The revised arrangements will be in place from June 12th, and payments may be backdated to March 26th.
What if I have been placed on lay off – and my employer is NOT operating the Wage Subsidy Scheme?
If a worker is laid off without pay, there is no need to claim in person at an Intreo centre. Instead, a new support payment has been introduced which applies to those workers whose employers lay them off. This Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment is paid at a flat rate of €350 per week.
The payment is available to all employees and the self-employed who have lost their job due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, and is scheduled to last until at least August 10th.
On June 5th, a change to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment was announced whereby, from June 29th, part-time workers who were earning up to €200 per week will receive a PUP of €203, while those earning over that amount will continue receiving the payment of €350.
The Covid-19 unemployment payment can be applied for through the Department of Social Welfare’s online portal www.MyWelfare.ie.
All that is required is for the applicant to have an email address, a bank account and a Personal Public Service Number. You will find your PPS number on a range of documents, including previous payslips. Simply go onto the Covid-19 Services section of the website and apply for the payment. You will have to set up an account but it is a simple and straight forward process.
To avoid any delay in payment, it is very important that you check carefully to ensure you have supplied the correct bank account and PPS numbers.
What about other social welfare payments?
If you were working and were also in receipt of any social welfare payment such as a Carers Payment, Working Family Payment (WFP) or One-Parent Family Payment, you can, provided you have lost your job due to COVID-19, also claim the COVID-19 emergency payment, in addition to retaining your existing welfare payment. The COVID-19 Payment Unemployment Payment will replace your employment income and will be regarded by the Department as equivalent to employment income.
If you have one adult and one or more dependent children you should claim a Jobseeker’s Payment instead of the COVID-19 Pandemic Payment.
This is because you can claim an additional allowance for your adult dependant and child dependants, which will bring your weekly payment to in excess of the €350 weekly payment due under the emergency COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment. Further information on Covid-19 and social welfare payments is available here.
What if I have been placed on short-time working?
If your employer reduces your hours to 3 days or less per week from your normal full-time hours, you can apply for a payment called Short Time Work Support.
Your employer can also put you on short-time working which is a more formal procedure and applies in the following situation:
What if my employer instructed me to go home?
You are entitled to clarity regarding your work situation, and in particular regarding whether you are to be paid, or are being laid off, made redundant or expected to work from home. If unclear on any of these or related questions, contact your employer in writing (e.g. by email) and ask them to confirm your employment and payment status in writing. In the event that your employer says that you will not be paid the Department of Social Protection will require written confirmation of your status if you are applying for a Social Protection payment.
A simple email detailing when, where and by who you were told to go home and asking that your status be confirmed to you in writing without delay will assist you to explain your circumstances to the Department of Social Protection.
If I have been placed on layoff or short time working as a result of COVID-19, can I claim for a redundancy payment?
The provisions of Section 12 of the Redundancy Payments Act 1967 have been suspended where an employee has been temporarily laid off or put on short-term work arising from the COVID-19 emergency measures. These provisions will remain suspended for as long as the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme and the Pandemic Unemployment Payment remain in place.
Workplace health and safety
Please click here to download the Return to Work Safely Protocol, and here to download the ICTU’s User Guide to the Protocol. Unite is continuing to advocate for improved resources to ensure enforcement of the Protocol.
Members working in the construction sector should note that Unite has set up a hotline for you to report any safety concerns relating to Covid-19. The number is 089-2031044. We also have a dedicated email address for construction members to contact: constructionROI@unitetheunion.org.
You should have a Health and Safety Representative – and you should know who s/he is
Under the 2005 Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, all employees are entitled to elect a Health and Safety representative. You may also have a union safety rep. It is important that you know who they are, that they are fully updated on any health and safety risks and relevant measures.
The Return to Work Safety Protocol states that your employer MUST:
If an employee has symptoms of the virus during work hours, your employer must have a designated isolation area for employees and must follow a specific procedure:
You are legally entitled and obliged to protect your health and the health of others
Under the 2005 Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act, workers must report a hazard or danger to their employer in the first instance. If an employee leaves the workplace because of an emergency, or because of serious and imminent danger, they cannot suffer any detriment as a result. Further information on the Act is available from the Health and Safety Authority here.
May 29th: Writing today on the publication of a new ICTU policy Document No Going Back: A New Deal towards a safe and secure future for all, Unite the Union RoI Senior Officer Brendan Ogle was critical of the EU Commission’s recovery fund for Ireland.
Ogle said, “In the very weeks when Fine Gael and Fianna Fail first seemed to rule out tax increases going forward (including the ongoing refusal to accept the Apple Tax), and then state-led borrowing, an attack began on the COVID-19 payment, with people who have been forced into isolation being targeted for ‘being better off’ on €350 a week. Now we learn that, of €750bn targeted by the European Commission in a recovery fund of grants and loans for 27 member states, Ireland is earmarked for just €1.9 billion, a tiny 0.25% of the total. This for a country that Eurostat found had been forced to pay 42% of the total cost of the European banking debt following the financial crash.”
He added, “The call for a universal public healthcare system free at the point of use must now be our most basic demand following a public health emergency where we found out who the real heroes in our labour market were. They were the ones out there saving lives and putting their own at risk!”
Furthermore, “Our individual wellbeing is linked into our collective wellbeing. The public needs to be safe, but who better to give a customer that assurance in a restaurant, bar or shop than the staff who work there? Remember this, when our economy re-opens if a worker serving you is sick from COVID you may well get sick too. Do you really want those workers not to be safe and protected?”
“If workers are not safe, customers are not safe”
May 20th: Trade union Unite, which represents workers in the hospitality and hairdressing sectors, has urged employers to engage with workers during the next number of weeks to ensure that workplaces offer a safe environment for workers and customers alike. Speaking today (Wednesday), Unite Regional Officer Brendan Byrne said that hospitality and hairdressing workers deserved praise for the way they had handled the closure of their workplaces – which in many cases entailed the loss of employment – as part of the response to a public health emergency affecting us all:
“Hospitality and hairdressing workers are amongst the lowest-paid workers in the economy, and even before the pandemic hit many were on precarious contracts. As the public health emergency developed, they worked hard to keep their workplaces safe both for themselves and for customers.
“Following the closure of their workplaces, many employers were either unwilling or unable to move their workers to the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, and a large number of hospitality and hairdressing workers have been living on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment with no certainty regarding how long the payment will last, or if and when their workplaces will re-open.
“As workplaces prepare to re-open later in the summer, employers must use the intervening period to engage with their workers, not only to ensure that workplaces meet all public health guidelines but also to improve overall conditions in these sectors.
The Covid-19 emergency has taught us that if workers are not safe, customers are not safe”, Mr Byrne concluded.
May 17th: We the undersigned call on the Government of Ireland to update its document Return to Work Safety Protocol: Covid-19 Specific National Protocol for Employers and Workers to include an adequate structure that will guarantee independent inspections and minimum mandatory compliance with new Covid-19 specific regulations. It must also include the participation of trade union representatives who already have Health and Safety training.
The situation and risk to public health calls for a response that goes beyond ideology, self-regulation and unenforced guidelines. The architecture for a robust and independent system of inspections of all workplaces needs to be established as soon as possible. This system has to include the expertise of the Irish trade unions who already have trained Health and Safety Representatives within their organisations. This expertise should be utilized in the public interest to ensure public safety and the required confidence of workers and customers in the inspection regime as businesses attempt to reopen.
The Health and Safety Authority is neither equipped nor robust enough to carry out the scale of inspections necessary, including targeted unannounced inspections. Furthermore what inspectors do exist do not have the power to issue the necessary on the spot fines to act as a deterrent and to ensure immediate compliance with the new protocols.
Section 35 of the Health & Safety at Work Act 2005 provides the scope to increase inspection powers and fines and without this the protocols, while comprehensive, are likely to be toothless.
We feel that while guidelines can be helpful and useful there is no guarantee that all employers or employees will comply or respect those guidelines, and it is certain that some will not. Therefore it is imperative that the protocol contain minimum mandatory regulations, more effective sanctions for noncompliance and a guarantee that workers themselves are not penalized or victimized for raising health and safety concerns, or for highlighting when and if the protocol is not being adhered to.
Finally, we believe that standards need to be raised across the board for the sake of the health of us all and the emergency workers risking their lives to keep us safe. This absolute necessity can be achieved with powers to enforce regulations, to sanction those who ignore the protocols and the establishment of a truly effective trustworthy method of workplace inspections.
Brendan Ogle, Senior Officer – Unite the Union (Republic of Ireland)
The Social Democrats
Senator Alice Mary Higgins
Senator Lynn Ruane
Joan Collins TD
Thomas Pringle TD
Paul Murphy TD
Brid Smith TD
Richard Boyd-Barrett TD
Gino Kenny TD
Cllr John Lyons
Cllr Cieran Perry
Cllr Pat Dunne
Cllr Dean Mulligan
Kieran Ellison Unite Regional Officer
NIPSA, UNITE and GMB condemn the decision taken to slash staff wages at the council meeting on Thursday 14th May 2020.
Representatives of all three staff trade unions, NIPSA, GMB and Unite denounced the confirmation by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council management that councillors have voted to introduce a 20 percent pay reduction on furloughed staff and casual workers. The numbers affected by the detriment, which will come into force on 19th of May, includes 205 staff and 170 casual workers for whom the council is seeking furlough.
Natalie Shiel, on behalf of NIPSA said: “It has not been explained to Trade Unions why ANBC are not in the financial position to avoid a detriment in pay in line with other Councils. The Council will only be required to pay one fifth of furloughed staff pay. It is clear that not enough cost saving measures have been considered before asking dedicated lower-paid workers to sacrifice 20% of their wage. Councillors and higher paid decision-makers will be unaffected by such cuts in wages whilst not being prepared to similarly ensure that their workers receive their full pay during this uncertain time. They have therefore placed the financial burden on the lower paid workers.”
Alan Perry on behalf of GMB states: “this is a totally appalling act by the councillors of Antrim and Newtownabbey council to cut the pay of staff. A number of employees who are effected will be some of the lowest paid within the organisation and the financial implications this may have on them is very concerning. We call upon the council to engage in meaningful negotiations with the recognised Trade Unions to look at ways to mitigate any losses to staff.
We also call on the councillors and senior management of ANBC to share the financial burden and not to unload it onto the lowest paid employees.
To date the way senior officers and councillors have treated staff is deplorable making announcements at the last minute and choosing to communicate through the press rather than their employees representatives, they should be ashamed of themselves.”
Unite Regional Officer, Kieran Ellison said, “The approach taken by Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council in opting to cut the pay of some of their lowest paid employees has left many workers upset and dismayed. The way that this decision has been announced has left very little time for employees affected to consult their respective Trade Unions on the many questions they have. Morale within the workforce is dissipating rapidly and workers are asking themselves why they are expected to sacrifice while those who are taking these decisions continue to receive full compensation. I urge our members working for the council to contact Unite quickly ahead of the imposed deadline to discuss their options.”