Tom Dowdall explains why you should consider joining a Trade Union.
What is a trade union?
A trade union is an organisation that represents workers and helps them in resolving any work related issues. It is a solidarity based, community focused entity with collective help at it’s origin.
What is the purpose of an employer?
The singular purpose of an employer is to maximize their profit and income. Often they do this under a humane face and create a cult to conceal this. ‘Company values’ and ‘career progression’ are buzzwords you’re told in an interview, all happy smiles! When they start regulating how many minutes you go to the bathroom for or set production quotas that you can’t meet and subsequently penalize you, then an issue begins to develop.
Employers on a personal level might be sound and up for a few pints after work, but remember that they hire you to perform a series of tasks which ensures their business runs. This means that they not only exercise power over you in the workplace while you’re there, but also create an environment where you a) maximize the profits of their company and b) minimize the losses (breaks, holiday pay, overtime pay, sick pay, etc).
Why should I join?
Statistics consistently show that unionised workplaces and countries with stronger trade union movements have higher wages, better working conditions and overall happier workers.
In Ireland, as little as 15% of all private sector workplaces are unionised and we can see this reflected in how companies treat their staff.
Additionally, consider how many people you know that are unhappy in their place of work. Friends, family members, partners etc. The purpose of a trade union is to help the individual, but also to assist all workers. So if you are in a place where you’re happy to work, that’s fantastic – but your membership dues could go to helping out others.
What happens if my employer finds out?
The constitution of Ireland recognises that people are permitted to associate with trade unions. No contract or demand of an employer can stipulate otherwise and it is illegal to be fired for membership of a union; this would be considered an unfair dismissal in the field of industrial relations.
Who should I join?
It depends where you work, but in Cork the strongest trade unions are for Bus Eireann, Tesco and Dunnes Stores. If you’re working behind the bar or in a hotel it’s recommended that you reach out to the Independent Workers Union.
Young people and trade unions
The education system of Ireland does not teach us about the benefits of trade union membership. Unions have also largely failed to mobilize and interest young people. Many of them have worked in collaboration with the major establishment parties in making deals (commonly known as Social Partnerships) which have effectively sown up Union activity.
However, in recent times, particularly since 2011, union action has been on the rise. Tesco, Dunnes, Crane workers in Dublin and many more have engaged in industrial action to fight for their working conditions. Where do young people come into all of this?
Currently, only 15-25% of the workforce of Ireland is in a trade union, which means that for the most part, wherever you will go there will be no trade union.
There will be nobody to keep your employer in check. Nobody to ensure you are being paid fairly, receive your breaks on time and, ultimately, nobody to appeal to should you feel you’ve been treated unfairly.
It is worth adding that the majority of work and employment in Ireland is highly concentrated in the hospitality and customer service sectors. Chances are you will end up doing a stint in a hotel, a call center or a retail store. None of these have any representation in Cork.
It starts with you
It can be daunting to think of joining a trade union, but not only is it your constitutional right, it’s also your duty as a socially conscious worker. You owe it to yourself and to your coworkers to at least consider joining a trade union, because even if you’re not there permanently, at least you’ll have improved conditions for the people who come after you or even the people you’ve made friends with. Union organizing is not something that’s complicated, it’s actually very simple.
If you have an issue and your workplace is organized and other workers are in the union, you know that you’re not alone when facing the employer or their representatives.
If your workplace isn’t in a union, you’re dealt with as an individual, even if many of your fellow co-workers are facing similar issues. It’s easier for them to deal with one instead of a hundred.