Irish union demands action to stop spiralling rents and mass job losses

SIPTU marchers in Dublin against the Irish government
SIPTU marchers in Dublin against the Irish government

SIPTU is calling for action on soaring rents to prevent further job losses immediately as the Irish deficit crisis deepens.

The union has called on the Government to take action to end upward only rent reviews which are negatively impacting on workers’ wages and employment in the hospitality and catering sector.

SIPTU Services Division Organiser, John King, said: ‘The hospitality and catering sector is experiencing unprecedented growth. This growth is being partly fuelled by tourist numbers and spending, with 2014 seeing these return to levels only experienced prior to the recession.

‘However, ever increasing rents are adversely impacting on many workplaces in the services sector.

As witnessed in the case of the announcement of job losses at the Bewley’s Café in Grafton Street, Dublin, upward only rent reviews in some circumstances are actually contributing to job losses.

‘Rather than increased productivity resulting in wage and job growth, growing revenues are being siphoned off by property owners at the expense of the wider economy’.

John King said that SIPTU had over 20 members employed by Bewley’s across the country.

However, workers in the company did not have the benefit of a collective bargaining agreement.

He said: ‘The workers who face losing their jobs due to the decision to implement redundancies at Bewley’s cafe in Grafton Street are not only the victims of the system of upward only rent reviews but also the lack of legislation to protect collective bargaining.

‘While recognising that the Government has been making progress in this area, action must be taken as speedily as possible to protect the right to collective bargaining and so help ensure workers benefit fairly from the economic recovery they have built.’

Bewley’s had fought an unsuccessful legal battle with its landlord, Ickendeal Ltd, which is controlled by property developer Johnny Ronan, to have its 1.5 million annual rent reduced to 728,000, as suggested by a third-party arbitrator in January 2012.

Meanwhile SIPTU General President, Jack O’Connor, has called for pay rises for workers across the private and public sectors as the economy makes a faster than expected recovery.

In response to the employers’ organisation, IBEC, stating that the majority of its members will implement pay rises averaging 2% over the coming year, O’Connor, told RTE News on Friday (2nd January), SIPTU hopes the rises would be greater and more widespread.

He said: ‘We hope to do better. We would hope that more workers would be covered and we hope that we will do better than 2% given the substantial increase in productivity since 2009’.

O’Connor has also called for early talks between unions and the Government on pay restoration for public sector workers.

O’Connor said that the faster than expected recovery should see the Government enter negotiations well in advance of the Haddington Road Agreement expiring next year.

He said: ‘We’re now expecting to record growth this year of something between 4.5-5.5%, depending on which commentator you’re listening to.

‘That’s considerably in advance of where everybody expected we would be. So if the recovery is running a year ahead, then we should be looking at rolling back the pay cuts across the economy.’

The president of SIPTU believes the faster than expected recovery of the Irish economy should bring benefits to workers.

Jack O’Connor is calling for fresh talks regarding public sector pay before the Haddington Road Agreement expires next year.

According to today’s Sunday Independent, the agreement with trade unions is due to last until July 2016, and negotiations for a new agreement were originally scheduled for spring of next year.

O’Connor, says he would like to see the talks begin sooner rather than later. 

Enda Kenny has said he hopes unions honour the deal, telling reporters that ‘the Haddington Road Agreement runs until 2016 and it’s important that we don’t spend away all of the hard-won gains by the people here. So, that will obviously be the subject of discussion and negotiation.’

‘We’d like to think that Haddington Road can be honoured and that we can make arrangements for the future,’ the Taoiseach added.

A union has told 1,400 workers at Bus Eireann it will ‘vigorously’ pursue a pay rise of over 6%, due since New Year’s Day.

In its Christmas message to members, the National Bus and Railworkers Union (NBRU) said this would be followed by a similar claim for its 1,600 members at Dublin Bus, when a cost-cutting plan expires on June 15.

Members are further advised that the pay claims lodged by the NBRU earlier this year will be vigorously pursued, beginning with Bus Eireann, followed thereafter by Dublin Bus,’ said general secretary Dermot O’Leary and assistant general secretary Paul Rowsome.

The union lodged pay claims, with no ceiling, for bus drivers, clerical, supervisory and maintenance staff with both CIE companies last April.

It said it wanted the payment of two outstanding increases under the last national agreement – a 3.5% increase due on April 1, 2009, and 2.5% from October 1, 2009.

‘This outstanding 6% should as a matter of course feature in any future calculation of pay rates,’ it said.

The letter also noted that an EU index of inflation for the period 2009 to last year was 8.97%. However, the Irish rate stands at 0.1%, although it does not include tax increases.

It said the Irish economy had produced the first green shoots of recovery after five years of recession and staff who had ‘successfully kept the wheel turning’ were struggling on wages from a previous time.

O’Leary said his members were presented with a scenario whereby the drop in passenger numbers and associated revenue fall-off had meant a period of retrenchment measures to stabilise the company finances.

‘The upturn in the economy and Bus Eireann’s positive news on passenger and revenue growth, matched if not surpassed by Dublin Bus, is a further indication that the time for pay restraint is at an end and transport workers will be seeking a recognition.’

He said the 6% owed under the Towards 2016 agreement was a ‘natural starting point’ to begin talks.

Bus Eireann and Dublin Bus’ cost-reducing plans included reduced rates for overtime and expenses, as well as cuts in holidays and sick leave.

Last week, Bus Eireann announced strong passenger growth, with over a million extra passengers last year compared with the previous 12 months. Chief executive Martin Nolan said the company achieved significant turnaround and further growth was predicted this year.

l On Wednesday (17th December) members and supporters of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign handed in a petition signed by over 8,000 people calling on Irish supermarket chain Dunnes Stores to make a public commitment that their outlets will not stock goods produced in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The petition – signatures for which were collected on streets around Ireland during 2014 – was initiated to coincide with the 30th Anniversary of the 1984 Dunnes Stores anti-Apartheid strike by IDATU (now called Mandate) trade union members in Dublin’s Henry Street, and calls on Dunnes to support justice for Palestinians.

Present to support the campaign were popular singer Honor Heffernan, renowned artist Felim Egan, celebrated composer Raymond Deane, film-maker Daragh McCarthy and members of the Palestinian community.