Ciaran Moore: Both the Dáil and Westminster are currently examining laws to deal with Online Safety, and examining ways to regulate the internet companies which have such a huge impact on our lives. Yet the debates in both parliaments miss out on a key issue – the workers who help make the internet safer.
Facebook whistleblowers have given evidence on the known impact of the company’s products both on our democracies and on the mental health of users, in particular young people. It is important that the regulation in Ireland and the UK doesn’t merely identify content which is harmful, but also the practices of companies such as Facebook, Google or TikTok in designing algorithms that put content onto our phones and computers which can cause harm – whether it is cyberbullying, suicide or self-harm promotion. This is a complex area where rights to expression and freedom of speech need to be balanced against the impact of large amounts of distressing content delivered to vulnerable people. But some of the most vulnerable people in our communities need more support than is there at present, and the establishment of an Online Safety Commissioner is an important and welcome step.
Unite member and FSU Official Mandy La Combre provides a guest blog this week on how domestic violence relates to work places and the policies needed to give protection to workers suffering abuse by domestic violence.
The Irish Government ratified the Istanbul Convention in 2019. Amid much publicity we were told that the ‘Council of Europe Convention on Preventing Violence against Women and Domestic Violence’ was a significant step forward. And so it should have been. The purpose of the Convention is to set out a comprehensive framework of policies and measures to ensure the ‘protection of women from all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence’. On International Women’s Day of the same year Taoiseach Leo Varadkar famously announced that he was calling for an end to the ‘epidemic’ of violence against women.
Ireland has less than one third of the number of refuge spaces than the convention requires.
Yet, since 2019, figures for violence against women, and domestic violence statistics have risen dramatically. Statistics show that Women’s Aid had 19,258 disclosures in 2019, and in 2020 calls were up 43%. Alarmingly Ireland has less than one third of the number of refuge spaces that the Convention requires. 1 in 4 women now experience domestic abuse in Ireland and, according to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 3 women will experience some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime. The over reliance on outreach and charitable services provides cover for government delays to follow up on the Convention and their commitment.
As reported cases spiked heavily during the Covid-19 pandemic Sinn Fein’s ‘Organisation of Working Time (Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2019’ gained cross party support. The bill provides for legislative proposals for the establishment of a statutory entitlement to 10 days paid domestic violence leave. This is a significant step forward in not only highlighting the challenges workers in abusive situations at home face, but also in attempting to eradicate the stigma surrounding domestic violence in the workplace. The Bill will be brought forward by the end of 2021. As a trade unionist active in this area however I believe that, while the 10 days leave is extremely important and having it legislated for is absolutely warranted, on its own and without robust workplace policies it could well see little take up. This is why it is essential that domestic violence workplace policies must be a serious focus for all unions in all sectors.
But what about employers?
Equality Minister Roderic O’Gorman’s Department has met with ICTU to discuss the need to marry good domestic violence workplace policies with the 10-day statutory entitlement. This move was most welcome. ICTU affiliates and members of the ICTU Women’s Committee were afforded the opportunity to put forward our case in this regard. However, at an ICTU seminar about the Bill this year the Minister stated ‘I am seeking the views and advice of employers groups regarding the potential impact of such leave and how the proposals could be implemented in a manner that would mitigate any potentially negative impacts on business.’
This is worrying. Safety and wellbeing is the absolute priority here and, as such, unions should be ensuring that we do not fail our members at this vital juncture. ICTU’s strong submission to the Department points out that the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, who provide data for Ireland on domestic abuse disaggregated by employment status, shows that 31% of employed women have experienced some form of violence by a partner since age 15 years. That is a staggering finding.
This Summer also saw the consultation commence on the ‘Third National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender based Violence’, an important piece of work steered by the Department of Justice (DOJ), partnering with Safe Ireland and the National Women’s Council of Ireland. The strategy is to be published by year end and will be a living document aimed at addressing the needs of victims, holding perpetrators to account and changing societal attitudes. The Department itself recognises the failure of the previous strategies and hope that the third strategy has a more successful implementation. Unions hope so too and we must demand that the necessary Government resources are allocated this time.
As part of the consultation process with ICTU a small group of us met with the DOJ and put forward suggestions from a worker’s point of view. We addressed the Istanbul Convention, sexual harassment in the workplace, ILO Convention 190, and domestic violence workplace policies. It is important that we continually emphasise to Government the importance of holding employers accountable on all equality issues. We must also demand that Government agencies encourage employers to be more amenable when Unions seek agreement on implementing new policies to support vulnerable workers.
When a worker is living with domestic violence there are very real negative impacts that flow into the workplace.
So why do we need domestic violence workplace policies?
One would assume with all the fanfare from Government on their ‘strong equality agenda’, that employers would be encouraged to line up to do the right thing but, unfortunately, it has been difficult to get employers to listen.
In 2014 ICTU launched a landmark all-Ireland on-line survey on people’s experience of domestic violence and the workplace. The findings were remarkable:
82% of respondents were women
75% of those abused women were targeted in the workplace
53% missed at least 3 days of work a month
94.4% said they thought domestic violence can have an impact on the lives of working people.
When a worker is living with domestic violence there are very real negative impacts that flow into the workplace. The survey results highlighted many of these issues; increased sick days, lower productivity, low morale, impacts on relationships with co-workers, and of course health and safety itself.
Since 2014 ICTU have been advocating for domestic violence workplace policies to be introduced in all workplaces yet it still remains difficult to convince employers that it is indeed a workplace issue. But with domestic violence highlighted so much over the last year, as reported figures soared during the Covid pandemic and with the increase in homeworking, employers can no longer use ignorance as an excuse.
The pervasiveness and severity of domestic violence impacting the workplace demands the attention of employers, yet employers may be reluctant to dig into employees’ personal lives. However, through providing support for abused employees and having a policy in place an employee knows that an employer is aware of the issue, can provide training for the workforce, and most importantly can direct victims to resources. Employers are not expected to be experts but they should be cognisant of the fact that sometimes the workplace is the only avenue of respite that a victim has. The workplace is often a place of refuge and safety for someone living with abuse. Perhaps the only one.
Equally domestic violence has no boundaries and often doesn’t ‘stay at home’. We know many abusers also target their victims in the workplace in various ways. Sometimes harassment can be by phone or email, through stalking on the way to and from work, by physically preventing a victim from going to work or even showing up at the workplace. Co-workers have also been threatened. Once employers understand that domestic violence can impact their workplace the real policy work begins. Any program’s success will depend on its integration into the company’s culture and business practices. Notably it has been private sector unions and employers that are leading the way in securing policies.
Recent policies have been agreed by the Financial Services Union and the Communication Workers Union in both the finance and communications sectors. These policies include provision for a number of significant practical support measures including:
Proper information and education on the subject
Access to confidential and independent counselling services paid by the employer
No negative actions for ‘excessive absences’ in sick leave policies
No negative actions for under performance with victims/survivors
Special paid leave (minimum 10 days)
Paid time off for visits to support agencies, Solicitors, court hearings, re-housing needs or childcare issues
Flexible working arrangements
Temporary or permanent changes in location / work times / front facing public roles
Diverting phone or email
Salary advancement if an employee is escaping a violent situation or suffering financial abuse
Ensuring the victim/survivor never works alone if that is what they request
Proper security procedures in place should a perpetrator show up at the workplace
Procedures for dealing with perpetrators in the workplace
List of support services
Commitment to confidentiality
It is important that any policy is not just a ‘paper policy’ and is backed up by a proper support system with specialist training and safety planning.
These workplace policies are crucial because losing a job can often mean losing a way out.
Research shows that women with a history of domestic violence are more likely to have lower personal incomes due to a disrupted work history. They may have to change jobs more often or be employed in casual or precarious employment. Keeping a job is a key pathway to leaving violent relationships. Being in work is often the only time a person being abused has the freedom and capacity to plan their escape without their abusers knowledge. The ICTU survey revealed how rarely those experiencing domestic violence disclose it to anyone in work but having a policy in place that addresses domestic violence breaks the stigma and shows workers experiencing violence that they are not alone.
Minister O’Gorman described the issue as ‘a multifaceted problem that requires all arms of the State to work together to address the issue and support those who are experiencing such violence’. He is right.
It is time for employers to step up.
Unite member and FSU Official Mandy La Combre provides a guest blog this week on how domestic violence relates to work places and the policies needed to give protection to workers suffering abuse by domestic violence.
Need help? Support is available:
The 24/7 National Freephone Helpline for Women’s Aid is 1800 341 900. There is an online chat service on womensaid.ie operating mornings and evenings and a text service for people who are deaf and hard of hearing on 087 959 7980.
SafeIreland.ie offers a list of 38 domestic abuse services in towns across Ireland.
For urgent assistance, call An Garda Síochána on 999 or 112.
Brendan Ogle: I have decided to write this article at this juncture for a number of reasons.
* Firstly, insofar as Irish workers can rely on any meaningful legislative support to protect their collective rights as workers those supports have crumbled into virtual non-existence
* Secondly, we have just had imposed upon us yet another Government that not a single person in the state voted for, with a programme for Government that fails absolutely to provide one iota of additional support for such workers, or even to acknowledge a problem
* And finally, in this neoliberal era the levels of inequality between labour and capital is now so extreme, and the resultant deprivation in a world and nation of such riches so acute, that the Trade Union movement of workers must now fundamentally change approach and take affirmative actions, or stand accused of simply existing to enable our class oppressors continue to trample on working people in the pursuit of extreme greed.
As the EU line up to kick Ireland again, unions must lead in defending jobs, sustainable Irish business & provision of improved public services
Brendan Ogle: As the ESRI predict the worst recession in our history, trade unions and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) have led the way in providing a comprehensive and workable counter-analysis to the hawkish calls for austerity from Ireland’s crushing neoliberal consensus.
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.
Karen Doyle and Julia Marciniak from Unite Hospitality & Tourism branch take a look at the conditions workers face in Ireland’s Tourism sector.
What should be a time when most people are planning holidays, going on day trips, or planning some weekends away we find ourselves wondering if perhaps next year will be better? The global pandemic of Covid-19 has brought life as we know it to a standstill. Throughout Ireland the Hospitality and Tourism sector has been hit extremely hard with mass layoffs and the effective closing down of an entire industry. This blog aims to take a closer look at the tourism industry before, during and after this emergency and will offer some ideas on how workers within this vital sector can organise to better protect themselves for a better future. The time has never been more pressing than it is now to join a union and through collective actions demand for a better, fairer future as this vital sector recovers post crisis.
The Government website (gov.ie) ascribes that “Tourism is one of Ireland’s most important economic sectors. According to the latest estimates, in 2018, out of state (Overseas and Northern Ireland) tourists generated €5.6 billion for the Irish economy. This figure rises to €7.3 billion when fare receipts to Irish carriers are included. Domestic tourism was worth 2 billion, meaning the sector as a whole was worth €9.4 billion to the economy”
Tourism and the Economy
According to the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation www.itic.ie Tourism is Irelands largest indigenous industry employing up to 265,000 people with 68% jobs outside Dublin. This is hugely significant given the number of tourists visiting here, up to €9.3 million overseas visitors came to Ireland in 2018 spending €5.1 billion in the local economy. Given the figures it is easy to see why governments, both local and national, businesses and workers are reliant on this sector to remain viable into the future. Therefore, in organising this industry it is vital that workers are viewed as essential components to help rebuild our local economies as the sector looks to welcoming tourists once again.
Tourism and Céad Míle Fáilte
Since the beginning of this crisis our government, media and the wider public has rightly lauded frontline workers labelling themas essential. Indeed, these workers are helping to keep our communities safe and our shops open so that we can take care of ourselves and our families in these uncertain times.
Within all sectors of our economy there exists many other frontline and essential workers without whom the various sectors and the economy would simply grind to a halt.
Tourism workers are the face of Ireland. They are the storytellers of times past and the ones who give the world renowned céad míle fáilte to millions of tourists who visit our shores every year.
Working in the tourism industry is about telling the story of Ireland, workers draw from its unique and ancient culture with its vast and often troubled history in a way that brings the past to life, encapsulates the best of us at present, while showcasing Ireland as a future destination that has something to offer everyone.
Frontline workers in this industry are local ambassadors too, often helping tourists find their way about, answering queries and giving recommendations for where to eat, drink, visit and stay. These factors all help to contribute to the famous Irish welcome that visitors have come to expect, and it is one of the reasons why this industry thrives and why local businesses reap the benefits too, this is the beating heart of tourism, it’s where workers on the frontline of this industry excel at helping to deliver the best of what Ireland has to offer.
Working in Tourism: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
Working in tourism can be rewarding, those workers we spoke to for this blog stated that getting to meet people from different parts of the world is a pleasure, educating tourists about Irish history and culture makes their job satisfying and for those workers who are outdoors or working in heritage and popular tourist sites work brings a sense of doing something different than the norm which these workers appreciate.
However, like their counterparts in the hospitality industry, tourism workers often have precarious work, earn low pay, get no extra pay for working on a Sunday, most workers have no job security and working conditions can be less than desirable.
Some workers do not receive their contracts or proper breaks, some complain of not getting their work roster in a timely manner, while one business we know of does not provide a toilet for their staff, yes, you read that correctly. Despite several attempts to resolve the issue workers here are still without the most basic of rights.
Many tourism workers have extensive knowledge of local and national history they hold university degrees, while many more attend related or professional courses to further their education in relation to their jobs, yet the pay and conditions these workers receive does not reflect the skills many of these workers have nor the overall input these workers deliver for the industry as a whole.
Another area of concern raised by some workers in the sector is the use of social media and apps such as TripAdvisor, some reviews can lead to added stress for workers. Bad reviews or even no reviews can lead to some workers experiencing their hours being reduced. The worker in this instance has little by way of right to reply to the complainant and must rely on management to step up when workers are wronged.
All these issues show how little respect is given to many workers in this sector without proper site inspections vital workers rights can be disregarded and ignored.
Tourism in a Post Pandemic Workplace
Workers returning to their jobs over the coming months must be satisfied that all health and safety measures are in place to keep them safe.
At a recent Covid-19 briefing on RTE, the Minister for Business, Heather Humphries, called for ‘every workplace to appoint one lead workers representative who will work with the employer to ensure Covid-19 measures are adhered to’, of course we would argue these ‘lead workers’ should be union members.
In the recently published research paper, commissioned by Unite and titled, Hope or Austerity, Dr Conor McCabe lays out clearly why we need to have confidence that measures are working as we reopen for business. ‘Guideline or ‘best practice’ procedures will not be enough. These protections must be on a legal footing and subject to workplace checks by trade unions. This is to ensure that our members are protected, and that employers adhere to the regulations’.
As the Hospitality & Tourism industry returns and rebuilds post pandemic, the public must be assured that conditions in the workplace are satisfactory for the workers, and that it is a safe place for them to visit.
Therefore, it is the workers themselves in this sector who need to become unionised. Strengthened by their collective power they will then be better positioned to protect themselves and the public too. The workplace that has a unionised lead worker can be an advocate on broader work issues, raise health & safety matters with management and be a voice for workers grievances.
This is the best way forward for workers in an industry that has disregarded its front-line staff for too long while the industry has taken billions into the Irish economy on the backs of the hard work done by skilled and dedicated employees.
Tourism & Hospitality have much in common, the Covid -19 pandemic has had, and it will continue to have, a massive impact on tourism not just in Ireland but globally too. It is the sector that took the biggest hit and will take time to recover, jobs created by this sector and the economic impact is undeniable. Let us hope that Ireland’s key sectors, and those who run, regulate, and profit from them are taking this time to reflect on a little bit more than the bottom line.
And let us hope that workers too are reflecting and realising some important lessons this pandemic has given us; that all workers have value and their contributions are necessary to keep the wheels of the economy running, that it is the front-line workers in all sectors who are the biggest asset any company or business has.
It is now time to reflect, recharge, rethink and unionise.
“Washinghands doesn’t contribute to profits, so it’s not a priority for bosses”.
Most Easter weekends see us visiting pubs and restaurants to meet up with friends. This weekend is very different, with hospitality outlets closed as a result of Covid-19. As we sit at home, have a read of this post by Unite Hospitality Coordinator Julia Marciniak who lifts the lid on the conditions faced by many hospitality workers – and highlights what needs to be done to ensure that hospitality workplaces are safer places for staff and customers when they do re-open.
The picture at the top of this post was drawn by the young son of an activist and captures previous protests outside Dublin’s Ivy restaurant.
Julia Marciniak: This week Adrian Cummins, CEO of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, called on the Government to set out clear plans for lifting restrictions so that businesses can re-open.
Obviously restrictions will eventually be lifted, but when that happens a focus needs to be put on employers’ responsibilities to put in place new measures that ensure the health and safety of workers and the general public. Those measures need to include adequate washing facilities, break times, and a transparent method of workplace inspections.
If you are under 30 years of age there is a strong possibility that you have never read, or seen, a positive feature about Trade Unions in the mainstream media. In that environment a climate of suspicion towards, and even hostility to, collective organising is easily fostered. But in essence a union is nothing more than a collective of workers coming together (in ‘union’) in the belief that they have more leverage and influence in improving their terms and conditions acting together than they do on their own. This idea, working together for the collective good, stretches right back to the late 18th century but it is as necessary now as it has ever been, perhaps in many ways more so.