Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil senators united last week to block a Seanad bill that would have strengthened protections for low-paid workers in shops, hotels, restaurants, hairdressing and catering.
The bill aimed to close a legal loophole that allows employers to veto agreements in Joint Labour Committees (JLCs), which set pay and conditions for staff working in a range of low-paid sectors. Employers have exploited the veto in every JLC sector except contract cleaning and security.
The bill, proposed by Labour senator Ged Nash and supported by Sinn Féin and independents, would have given the Labour Court powers to impose pay rates on employers who refused to reach agreements through the JLC system.
Speaking at a campaign event ahead of the Seanad debate, chef Lar Baker, who has worked in catering for 30 years, said it was demeaning for qualified staff like him to work for minimum pay.
Mr Baker was dismissive of employment minister Regina Doherty’s recent claim that most restaurants treated their staff like family. “It’s a joke and an insult as most hospitality staff have to work such long hours they can’t have a family life themselves. I wouldn’t let my children work in a hotel. I wouldn’t encourage anybody to do it,” he said.
Siptu official Ed Kenny said the average wage for a chef in the hospitality sector was just €10 an hour “from five-star hotels down” and that three-quarters were on the minimum wage of €9.80.
Hospitality worker Eve Mitchell said staff were afraid to put their head above the parapet to demand fair treatment. “We feel so vulnerable and powerless, and the absence of a JLC means there’s no way to address this. It’s expensive to stay in a hotel, which makes it even harder to swallow that workers aren’t supported,” she said.