This 1 May, trade unions across the island of Ireland build membership and campaign for respect at work

Across the island of Ireland, workers’ lives are getting harder every year. Around this year’s International Workers’ Day, trade unions are campaigning to change that.

Around this year’s International Workers’ Day, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) holds Ireland’s first-ever Trade Union Week. The week from 29 April to 6 May will be “the largest mobilisation of trade union members in decades” with coordinated events taking place in workplaces and local communities across the island of Ireland.

A UNI Europa delegation will join and support Irish members at the May Day March in Belfast, Northern Ireland. For decades, May Day there has symbolised unity amidst turmoil, standing as the sole cross-community parade during the conflict and continuing to unite all sectors of society to this day.

UNI Europa Regional Secretary Oliver Roethig said: “We are proud to be joining our Irish comrades on their May Day parade. That’s how we show the unity of our movement across borders. We support the fight for real say and more pay on the whole island of Ireland and indeed across the whole of Europe.”

A new charter for workers’ rights in Ireland

At the same time, four ICTU trade unions and UNI members – SIPTU, FSU, CWU and Mandate – launched their campaign Respect at Work fighting to improve workers’ rights in Ireland.

Ireland is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. But workers’ lives are getting harder every year. One in five workers in Ireland, over 420,000 people, are classified as low paid. More than 345,000 workers earn less than the Living Wage. And they work longer hours and have fewer days off than the European Union average.

This is because Ireland has some of the weakest legislation on workers’ rights in Europe. For instance, it is one of only two countries in the EU, alongside Cyprus, where there is no recognition in legislation that protects workers representatives against dismissal. It means that employers in Ireland can and do unfairly dismiss workers representatives for engaging in trade union activity.

An EU Directive for social progress

In 2024, The EU minimum wage directive mandates that the Irish Government must pass a new law about workers’ rights to improve collective bargaining coverage in the country. In Ireland, only 34 per cent of workers are covered by a collective agreement, when the EU directive’s goal for every member states is 80 per cent.

Therefore, the Respect at Work campaign demands new legislation to:

  • Ban union-busting once and for all.
  • Protect union members so that they cannot be victimised, discriminated against or dismissed for their union activity.
  • Provide the right to join a union for workers that positively encourages union membership and protects them from victimisation.
  • Introduce legally protected facilities for union representatives so that they have the means to discharge their functions for their members.
  • Provide the right of workers to access trade unions so they can know their rights, talk and ask questions of their relevant trade union in their workplace.
  • Public funding should promote collective bargaining, as per the EU Directive. Include collective bargaining as a positive attribute in all public tendering processes.

As laid out in its manifesto, UNI Europa campaigns for strengthening collective bargaining, more social public procurement and the criminalisation of anti-union behaviour ahead of the European elections on 9 June 2024. And after the elections, the federation will work with its member across Europe to make these demands a reality on the road to the quadrennial Conference in Belfast in March 2025.