Deputy Michael Lowry, Independent T.D. for North Tipperary and South Offaly has called for urgent legislative action to protect some of our lowest paid workers in the food and catering industry whilst having regard to the strains on employers.
This follows the recent decision of the High Court which declared the operation of the Catering Joint Labour Committee unconstitutional.Typically lower paid workers in this sector of employment had the terms of their contract fixed under the Joint Labour Committee system. This provided them with certain protections and minimum employment standards that had to be met by employers. However Mr. Justice Kevin Feeney has now declared that this Committee is unconstitutional as it is not governed by sufficient principles and policies in the legislation.
As a result of this, Deputy Lowry detailed, employers in this sector are now free to take on new employees on lower terms and the premium rate for a working on a Sunday need no longer apply. In addition employees will see cuts to their overtime and premium rates of pay, applicable for new employees immediately.
This will have a devastating effect on some of the lowest paid workers in our society. Deputy Lowry stated that;
“This will now put pressure on existing employees in this sector. While legally employers cannot lower the contract terms without express and willing agreement from an employee, in reality employees may find themselves squeezed to accept lower wages. When contract reviews come up many employees fear that they will be forced to accept lower rates.
“Since the commencement of this court case I have been inundated with calls and emails from concerned employees and their families. In many cases such employees are struggling to keep their heads over water, reduced wages and losing their Sunday premium would simply be the last straw. This decision will affect over thousands of individuals across the constituency.”
“I am therefore calling upon the Government to urgently take steps to help these workers and their families. Legislative protections need to be put in place immediately to protect both existing workers and new employees. I understand that Minister Bruton, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is seeking to introduce a comprehensive wage reform across the board in the coming months but action needs to be taken and taken immediately. While I understand that the High Court judgment must be carefully examined the Minister has considerable resources and legal advice at this disposal and has no reason not to act quickly. This ruling is causing considerable anxiety and distress to families and we need to move quickly to protect and reassure.”
“As an employer I understand the difficulties faced by companies in these difficult times. Almost every company is struggling to cope with the decline in trading conditions. It is not my intention to make their lives more difficult, we need to ensure that such businesses can continue to operate but we must strive to do so in a way that is just to employees. The Minister needs to find a correct balance that takes account of employers problems and is just to employees.”