SIPTU General President Jack O’Connor is to address a public meeting in Waterford next Monday night (February 11) in the Granville Hotel (7.30) regarding what he has described as ‘Round 2 in the War on Exploitation’.

Calling for domestic legislation that would give equal treatment to agency workers, he will reiterated that the failure to achieve equality of treatment for agency workers remains a major difficulty for the trade union movement.

Christy McQuillan, SIPTU South East Regional Secretary, has invited all the TD’s in the region to attend, as well as Waterford City Councilors, Trade Union organisers and members and workers generally. Describing this forum as a crucial and necessary engagement with all interested parties, he said it was important workers were not exploited or hard won pay and conditions undermined.

Marie Butler, SIPTU Waterford Branch Organiser, in a statement released ahead of the meeting, said the exploitation of agency workers and the consequential assault on workers’ pay and conditions could not be underestimated. She said all workers needed to be involved in the campaign and employees, including agency workers, needed to organise together to stop the unfair practice of treating agency workers less favourably in the workplace.

Agency workers, she said, should be treated no less favourably in the workplace than those employed by the host company. That was only fair and equitable for the agency workers and the best way to protect existing pay and conditions.

Drawing attention to the fact that there are 520 licensed employment agencies in Ireland, for a population of 4.2 million, she said that gave testimony to the fact that it was a growing business. But it wasn’t sufficient that licensed agencies complied with the Employment Agency Act 1971 – there were offshore agencies and unlicensed agencies being used by some companies.

She suggested that lack of legislation in this area was also unfair to the many decent employers who paid their workers in line with their ability to pay, instead of seeking to exploit agency workers. Those people were coming under increasing competitive pressures.

“You could be forgiven for thinking that it is only employers who run a business”, she said, “but all working families run a small business from their kitchen table every Thursday or Friday night where they decide how they are going to pay their overheads (mortgages, car costs, electricity, gas etc), material costs (food, clothing, etc) and still have enough to pay for education and medical cover and all of the other ongoing expenses”.

“Let’s face it” she added, “labour costs have become the mantra of the business population and that only means one thing – paying workers less”.

Calling on all workers and interested members of the general public to attend Monday’s meeting, she said workers, whether direct employees or agency workers, couldn’t afford to sit back and wait and see what happened.

She demanded legislation now that gives equal treatment in the workplace to agency workers because, she said, “while today it’s someone else who’s being exploited, tomorrow it will be you and then suddenly it becomes the norm for your children and grandchildren”.