Catering JLC wages & conditions cut by courts - Finger Lickin' Good?

Date:

When John Grace of Famous Fried Chicken fame is counting his money, he occasionally has to wet his finger with his tongue in order to facilitate the separation of individual notes and ensure an accurate count. Since 7th July last he has to apply spittle more often, he has received a pay-rise of over 7% thanks to a ruling by Judge Feeney of the High Court that the “Joint Labour Committee (JLC)” rates of pay for the catering industry, which are set by the Labour Court, were unconstitutional. (See table inside for more details)

 
So, John Grace and his “competitors” from the “Quick Service Food Alliance”, Subway, Abrakebabra, Supermacs, Burger King and others, will now be allowed to pay €8.65 per hour instead of €9.31 per hour to a new employee. Overtime rates of time-and-a half after 39 hours work in a week are no longer a legal requirement. The nighttime allowance premium of 25% extra and the Sunday allowance of 33% extra are wiped out at the stroke of a judicial pen.
 
The Catering JLC Sick Pay scheme for a worker with over two years of service will gradually disappear and the working week will increase from the present 39 hours to 48 hours. The judge who made this decision enjoys a salary of €243,080 (€4,674.62 per week or €119.86 per hour based on a 39 hour week).
 
John Grace and his colleagues in the Alliance would like us to believe that their challenge in the Courts had nothing to do with getting a pay-rise for themselves at the expense of their workers. They are saying that it will be “good for business and will create jobs”!
 
How will lowering the rate of pay be “good for business”? What do they mean by “business”? Is it “trade”, “profit” or a “combination of both”? By lowering wages will the catering sector be able to sell their product more cheaply, attracting more customers and boosting profit? The economy is depressed and, despite several sectors of the retail economy dropping prices, economic stimulation is not happening. One look at the drop in house prices would seem to verify this position. However, if “business” means the more honest definition of “profit”, then it certainly will be good for business as the cut in wages will have a direct co-relation with the increase in employer’s profits.
 
Will increased profits for the employers create more jobs? Not unless you conduct more trade and this will not happen as long as government and employers (including catering employers) continue to take money out of the economy through wage cuts and taxation. So, while the court decision will certainly be good for profits it won’t lead to price reductions for the consumer nor will it create one extra job.
 
But what if the wage cut is passed on to the consumer? If wages go down by 7% and in the highly unlikely event of the “Quick Service Food Alliance” deciding to pass this “saving” on to the consumer, will we see the €2.80 bag of chips or the €3.50 burger being reduced respectively by 20 cents and 25 cents? The answer is it can’t be done, as all costs (not just wages) have to come down by 7% and with gas, electricity and rates all going up, the wage cut (if wages were half overall costs) would only allow for a price drop of 10 cents and 13 cents each for the same chips and burger. It hardly seems sufficient to stimulate the fast food sector!
 
Remember that in the catering sector, restaurants, café’s, takeaways and pubs have (with a handful of exceptions) an appalling record of failing to apply the correct rates of pay even during the years of the so-called Celtic Tiger. The archive of the Independent Workers Union bears testimony to the horrific treatment meted out to catering workers by their employers over the past decade. If they treat their workers badly then it stands to reason that their customers are only a means to an end for profit making.
 
What is to be done? We workers know that the Courts never do us any favours and the rights that we have achieved have come about because of organisation.
 
Workers’ organisation means that we are in a position to exercise economic muscle, through the threat or actual withdrawal of our labour. Through the years of “Social Partnerships”, when many Union leaders severely damaged (and sometimes destroyed) our structures, through open collaboration with our class enemies and their agents in Government, we lost the habit of exercising our economic power. We need to re-educate and re-train ourselves in this department.
 
We need to talk to workers whose wages and conditions were part of the JLC system. We must convince these same workers that, by being united in Trade Union organisation, we will once again be in a position to use economic muscle. In such circumstances, employers will reluctantly enter into agreements with us, as their fear of losing profit is foremost on their minds and they realise that a withdrawal of labour will see no profits being made.

From Workers Solidarity 123 Sept/Oct 2011

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