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Racist exploitation, €2.80 per hour
Another example of social partnership in action

Joe Craig

20 July 2006

While trade union leaders are embarked on the task of selling the latest social partnership deal to their members yet another example of the real character of their partners has been reported in the newspapers.  Labour inspectors, on foot of a complaint by Sinn Fein TD Arthur Morgan who had been contacted by the workers involved, have discovered a group of South African workers being paid €2.80 per hour.  This is less than half the minimum wage of €7.65.

The nineteen workers are employed by a South African company that has had the work sub-contracted to it by an Irish company that in turn is fulfilling a contract to Bus Eireann.  Thus not only is an Irish company implicated in outrageous exploitation but so also is the Irish State.

The whole case is redolent of that of the Turkish GAMA workers, including the claim that the South African workers have not been paid hundreds of hours of overtime, have been working six days per week and are having their wages paid into an account outside the State.  The workers also claim that they have not been given pay slips.

The case has particular relevance because the new social partnership deal is being sold on the basis that things like this can’t happen.  Yet here we have a case where the partners of the trade union bureaucrats are up to their necks in it.

The new partnership deal emphasises support for outsourcing work and the use of private companies by the public sector.  The deal promises complete trade union support for outsourcing. This case shows just what the outcome of the trade union support will be.

While ICTU trumpets its effort on behalf of the low paid it cannot even trust its partners to implement the minimum wage.  While it promises not to take any action against privatisation, contracting out and outsourcing we get yet more evidence that these involve outrageous levels of exploitation.  While we are given to believe the government will protect workers rights this government uses workers own money handed over in tax receipts to fund illegal work practices by state companies.  The latest deal ensures that these practices will continue. 

This latest example has once again been brought to prominence by the workers themselves through a political representative yet the deal specifically promises to rein in workers activity and leave it to the people who create exploitation in the first place to sort it out.  The partnership agreement sets itself against organising workers and of course has nothing to say on the task of workers creating their own political voice to champion the rights of the exploited.

The case of the South African workers is reported on the same day that initial census figures record that there are 400,000 foreign nationals living in the State, almost 10% of the population.  It can be safely assumed that the levels of exploitation revealed at GAMA and suffered by these South African workers are not isolated cases and that therefore this is a significant phenomenon.

Commenting on the census returns the editorial in the ‘Irish Times’ warns that the Irish State has become ’one of the most unequal societies in the developed world’ and that the task is to ‘build an inclusive, caring and egalitarian society that will cherish all citizens according to their needs.’  It also warns that this must be done while ‘racial tension is limited.’

That we are in this situation is a result of the workers movement having been emasculated by social partnership; the mechanism of this emasculation being the trade union bureaucracy.  It is this which permitted the gross inequalities that characterise Irish society to grow and which has allowed the government to fan the flames of racism.  It is an absolute scandal that, not long after a virulently racist referendum, we have the trade union leadership signing up to an extended partnership with those responsible for it.

There are lessons for the left as well, sections of which are currently giving a not so back-handed vote of confidence to the union leadership and are limiting themselves to opposition to this deal only but not to partnership itself.  Just what sort of partnership with this racist government is acceptable?

This latest example of partnership in action shows that the job of the left is to oppose partnership completely, 100% - all the way!


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