Workers Rights

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No discrimination at work

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."

United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1

This universal statement of equality for all is an important trade union issue. Protecting this right in the workplace is part of the wider struggle for equality in society as a whole. Non-discrimination is one of the core labour standards of the International Labour Organisation.

ILO Convention on Equal Remuneration, No.100 (1951) says that men and women must get equal pay for work of equal value.

ILO Convention on Discrimination (Employment and Occupation), No.111 (1958) requires each government to have a national policy, including laws and education programmes, to eliminate any discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.

Women in the Global Workforce

In today's global economy there are growing numbers of women in the workforce - in developing and industrialised countries alike. Generally, women are paid less than men for the same job and are more likely to be employed where conditions are worse. In many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, governments have built special Export Processing Zones where foreign investors can benefit from a workforce that is 85 per cent women, paid less and barred from forming trade unions.

In the UK, women working full-time still earn about 20 per cent less than men doing similar jobs. 40 per cent of women work part-time, compared to only 8 per cent of men, and women working part-time earn only 60 per cent of the average male hourly rate. The national minimum wage introduced in April 1999 has helped the lowest paid, including many women, but it has not closed the gender wage gap. In the Republic, despite legislation since 1975, women's pay still remains an average of 15.5 per cent lower than men's, and the gap is closing at a rate of only 0.445% a year.

The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) binds countries to outlaw all forms of discrimination against women. Employment rights that should apply equally to men and women include promotion, job security, and job opportunities. Discrimination for marital status or maternity is not allowed. There are also many European Council Directives on equal treatment for women at work.

This is an issue for all trade unionists. Where women can be used as a cheaper labour force, it undermines the higher conditions and pay of men. Better pay for women means better incomes for families. A workplace without harassment and bullying is a happier workplace for all. More women in union leadership roles to promote these issues would strengthen the trade union movement as a whole.

Migrant Workers

Globalisation is provoking a huge movement of people worldwide. The number of migrants in the world has more than doubled since 1975. Today 175 million people are living in a country other than where they were born. Most come from war-torn regions or are fleeing poverty. These are situations with which many Irish people can historically identify.

Generations of people from the island of Ireland had to leave their homeland to find work. Today our island receive more migrants than it sends. They are mostly from Eastern Europe, the Philippines and Africa, and work in information technology, service, catering, healthcare, and agriculture.

International research shows that migrants contribute to the economies, culture and well-being of both their host and home countries. Sadly, however, many immigrants are subject to abuse. Over a quarter of cases brought under the Employment Equality Act in the Republic of Ireland concern maltreatment of migrant workers. Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, surveys have shown that people are less willing to mix with members of ethnic minority communities than with those of the other main religious tradition than their own (Catholic or Protestant).

The rights of migrant workers should be protected, according to the United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families agreed in 1990. There are also two ILO Conventions (No.97 of 1949 and No.143 of 1975) promoting equality of treatment for migrant workers. The United Nations has announced 18 December as International Migrants' Day each year to keep the rights of migrants in the public eye.

Neither the Republic of Ireland nor the UK has ratified the UN Convention. The UK has ratified ILO Convention No.97 but not No.143. The ROI has ratified neither. So, in 2002, the ICTU launched a campaign called 'Ratify!' to bring pressure on the Government of Ireland to sign up to them and integrate their provisions into Irish law. The ICTU is also promoting anti-racism in the workplace.

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