Workers seeking to establish unions ‘fearful of harassment and victimisation from employers’ - Siptu

Respect to Work campaign hopes to boost union membership in tech and finance sectors

A new campaign to unionise workers in the State is targeting two of the most profitable sectors in the economy – finance and tech.

The Respect to Work campaign is calling on the Government to ensure that workers have a legal right to organise a trade union in their workplace.

While any worker has a constitutional right to join a union, there is no legislation forcing employers to recognise trade unions.

The problem is most acute in the technology sector, according to Communications Workers Union (CWU) official Fionnuala Ní Bhrógáin. The CWU represents workers in the postal, telecoms and tech sectors.

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She said none of the major multinational tech companies operating in Ireland including Meta, X (Twitter), LinkedIn or Google, allow for union organisation. “Over the last 18 months since the mass lay-offs in the tech sector we have found that the tech companies have no interest whatsoever in engaging with workers’ unions,” she said. “I’m sure it suits them perfectly well not to have unions for their workers.”

She said many of the tech giants come from an American culture of unionisation, but in the US companies have to recognise unions if a majority of workers want them.

These companies are perceived to be good employers, but the recent wave of lay-offs shows that “workers don’t know they need assistance until they need assistance”, she said.

Financial Services Union head of campaigns Gareth Murphy said there was a contrast between Irish banks, which are overwhelmingly unionised, and foreign-owned banks. “It is very difficult for workers to organise with them. We have written to many of these banks, but they don’t engage,” he said.

“They are anti-union. They don’t allow our members the right to individual representation. Our members are very fearful of being victimised so most of our members are private or secret members. They are extremely fearful of harassment and victimisation from their employers.”

The Right to Work campaign is timed to coincide with the required transposition of an EU directive on minimum wages and collective bargaining which the Government must write into law by November of this year.

The directive inquires countries where less than 80 per cent of workers covered by collective agreements to introduce new measures to promote collective bargaining between unions and employers. Ireland’s existing level of unionisation at 34 per cent of the workforce is higher than the EU average of 23 per cent but well below Nordic countries where more than half of the workforce is unionised.

Campaign spokeswoman Ethel Buckley, who is also SIPTU deputy general secretary, said it was important that the Government did not water down the directive to make it effectively “meaningless” for the majority of workers.

“We are saying it is time to protect the right of workers to engage in collective bargaining and to protect workers and trade union representatives from acts of anti-union discrimination and interference including union busting.”

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