Government Interested In Own Image, Not Action, In Dunnes Dispute

The Young Greens support the Dunnes workers in their strike action against the manner in which management have abused the zero-hour contracts that it placed employees on. No political party that wants to be taken even slightly seriously would speak against the striking workers. The problem with a lot of what we have heard so far though is that it is directed solely at the private corporation. While this is not in and of itself bad, and Dunnes’ management should be condemned for their abuse of the system, political parties seem afraid to tackle the underlying issue – why a system that is so easy to abuse exists in the first place. The fact is, it is a lack of proper legislation that allows companies to use workers in this way.  While Dunnes have acted repugnantly, the lax laws governing zero-hour contracts mean it is essentially impossible to show that they have done anything illegal.

It is ironic that the Labour Party’s response to this situation is to wring their hands and ask the captains of industry to maybe be so kind as to treat workers better, instead of living up to their name and legislating so that this isn’t allowed to happen.  Ask the owner of any large business what the main goal is and they will tell you that it is to deliver maximum profit. As such, the interests of workers often come second to businesses, and it is the role of government to step in and produce appropriate legislation to address this imbalance.

Responding by merely hoping that Dunnes might change their behaviour, when you yourself are in a position to enforce the correct treatment of workers is either extremely naïve or just cowardly. Saying that you’d like it if the workers got their way, while not lifting a finger to help them, when you have the capacity to settle the entire dispute shows just how blindly in thrall to business this government is. Wanting Ireland to have strong enterprise is one thing, but not bothering to fix one of the most serious sources of exploitation and abuse of employees – zero-hour contracts – is an entirely different matter and is entirely inexcusable. What is clear is that this dispute won’t be solved by politicians taking selfies with the striking workers to promote their own image, or vague statements in favour of the worker from parties who aren’t actually willing to do anything (If you want a lesson in vaguery check out the Labour Party’s statement of support which doesn’t mention zero-hour contracts even once). If you want to see another indication of how much the government is dedicated to appearance over action, just look at the low wage commission that they have established. By mandating it to examine the minimum wage and that alone, the government has chosen to ignore the multitude of other problems, some just as serious as the minimum wage. The flaw in this is illustrated perfectly by the Dunnes example – even if the minimum wage was raised, it would be small comfort to someone who has their hours cut in half by a vindictive manager.

The answer to the question of what is to be done is not a complex one. In general, we have a problem in this country with the expanding amount of low wage work and with employers employing people to do more work for fewer hours. They are able to do this because the recession has created a job market where the employer is free to exploit how badly people need jobs. Without the luxury of choice, employees are much more likely to accept worse terms of employment. The government is quite happy to take a laissez-faire approach to the growth of a low wage economy as long as they get some nice statistics about what a great place Ireland is for business – so that they can sell Ireland Inc. to more companies. This government relies on the support of those who are comfortable enough that they don’t need to think about the employment rights of the low-paid as important. In terms of this specific issue it is very clear that zero-hour contracts must be outlawed.

This would not be hard for the government to do, and the only reason they would not is for fear that employers would be annoyed at losing a tool that they can use to control and discipline employees without having to go through legal or regulatory obligations. There is no place for that type of contract in our economy or society. This is part of what we see as the Green solution for how employment is structured  – we want to change how we value work and how we go about creating work in such a way that more people have access to meaningful employment, are allowed to live their lives outside of work, and work without fear of their employer abusing them because the state simply couldn’t be bothered fixing obvious legislative problems. We need to remedy this situation created by Labour and Fine Gael where the employer has capacity to exploit workers in a way that deliberately circumvents their legal protections, and to do that, zero-hour contracts absolutely have to go.

Lorna Bogue- Chair of the Young Greens

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Labour Hypocritically Turns Its Back On Workers With Latest JobBridge Scam

1913 lockout

An internal department audit carried out last summer showed that private operators running the Job Club Scheme, which the State funds to the tune of €6 million, are using JobBridge interns to provide cheap labour for their enterprises. In fact, the audit also found that in some cases all the positions in certain Job Clubs were filled by JobBridge interns.

In effect the government is allowing private business to profiteer off the state by exploiting desperate unemployed workers to train other desperate unemployed workers, without any certain promise of a job at the end. It is clear that the department’s failure to effectively monitor and police the JobBridge scheme is wasting taxpayers’ money on top of completely disregarding the welfare of the unemployed. This is the latest in a series of continuing failures by the Labour-run Department of Social Protection to look after the interests of those it has forced to engage in workfare programmes.

Eamon Ryan, leader of the Green Party, has echoed the Young Greens’ disgust at this situation; “Revelations that unemployed people are being used to train other unemployed people shows that we are drifting dangerously towards an exploitative workfare culture. Programs such as Job Bridge can have merit, so long as they are strictly monitored, and the work results either in employment or genuinely valuable work experience. Joan Burton’s hand is clearly well off the tiller given this latest revelation. She and her Department need to urgently review existing arrangements with private companies before any more unemployed people are exploited in this way.”

Once again, we are seeing that this government is more interested in lining the pockets of a few businesses than protecting people who are seeking work from exploitation, especially the Labour Party. Only a few short years after the centennial of the foundation of the Labour Party and the 1913 lockout, the seminal moments in the genesis of the Irish Labour Movement, Joan Burton and her party are helping big businesses  to exploit the vulnerable worker for less than the minimum wage. When scandals like this arise, it also rings hollow that Labour really are able to keep their coalition partners, Fine Gael, in check. Indeed it looks as though Labour are happy to stand idly by and let their conservative coalition partners inflict suffering on the most vulnerable in society and that the spirits of Connolly and Larkin are long forgotten and ignored in today’s Labour Party.

 

Lorna Bogue – Chair of the Young Greens and Welfare Spokesperson for the Green Party

We must call this Institutional Abuse for what it is – 11/12/14

RTÉ Investigations Unit: Inside Bungalow 3 (aired: 9/12/14), which covered the abuse of elderly people with intellectual disabilities in the Áras Attracta care home in Swinford, provoked what has become an all too familiar reaction from both the public and our elected representatives. For the public, we are once again left with a feeling of helpless anger. Anger that the most vulnerable in our society, who we believe should be cherished and protected, have in fact been suffering treatment which can only be described as torture. Our elected representatives were, as usual, very quick to issue statements telling us that this shouldn’t be happening. This sentiment seems without substance, as these declarations have been made countless times before in the face of previous, often recent, cases of sickening abuse coming to light.

The abuse of some of our society’s most vulnerable in Áras Attracta mirrors what has taken place in the mother and baby homes that were run by the religious orders. It mirrors what has taken place in some of our state run institutions for those with mental illnesses. It also mirrors that which was inflicted on pregnant women in our some of our state-run hospitals, resulting in unnecessary medical procedures such as the horrifying practice of symphysiotomy. All of these were, at the time, and still are, covered up by those responsible – the church, the doctors, and most damningly of all, the state.

This is not ancient history, either. Prime Time Investigates uncovered horrific abuse in the Leas Cross care facility in 2005, and the political establishment of the day announced that changes must be made. Yet here we are in 2014, witnessing abuse that is even more heinous and hearing the same responses from our government. So much of this problem stems from a political class that refuses to recognise that this goes beyond isolated incidents, and refuses to call the epidemic we have for what it is – systemic institutional abuse.

We can only move forward as a society and properly address this problem when we as a society, including our elected officials of past and present, accept our complicity in the continuation of this shocking abuse of the most vulnerable in our society. Our long established culture of covering scandals like this up, of handwringing after the event has been revealed and of taking inadequate steps to preserve the respect and dignity of the most vulnerable Irish citizens is something we are all aware of, and something that allows abusers to embed themselves within the institutions designed to protect the very people they prey upon.

The Young Greens are calling for an independent investigation into the abuse that has already occurred. However, to ensure such horrific events never happen again we believe that more needs to be done than simply treating this as an isolated incident. Radical action is needed to eradicate systemic abuse from our health system. The Young Greens firmly believes in finding practical solutions, undertaken at the lowest effective level, which we feel are not currently being investigated and implemented.

This year legislation protecting whistleblowers has been strengthened, but we say that current legislation on this issue does not do enough. Institutional abuse is an inherently cultural problem, and if a culture exists in an institution where inappropriate behaviour is not reported or stopped, then our legislation is effectively useless.

The first thing then that must be looked at is the point of entry to these work places. Who are we entrusting the care of our most vulnerable citizens to? Ideally, in the caring society that forms part of the Green vision a professional carer is well qualified, is vetted, is consistent in their duty and most importantly wants to help and empower the people they are caring for. In order for this to happen, a society needs to exist that recognises that the job of caring is one that is demanding, but hugely important on both an individual and societal level. It is a job that should be respected as one that enriches society to a far greater extent than it is now.

As it stands, that fundamental idea of caring is not respected in the increasingly profit-above-all society that Labour and Fine Gael are constructing. To see an example of the way caring is disrespected in our current society, one has only to look at how those who choose to care for their loved ones and forgo employment are treated. Their benefits have consistently been cut; especially by the current Government. Their sacrifice is treated by this government as selfish, a way of dodging work, as if caring for the vulnerable is harmful and the only thing that can benefit society is the creation of more profit for private enterprise. This is a destructive, narrow-minded and inhumane view of what our society should be and what our priorities should be. Fine Gael and Labour should be ashamed for furthering this and for making it increasingly difficult for people to provide care to those in need.

This is reflected in what the caring industry in general has been forced to become by this corporate-centric view – a largely privatised industry driven by profit, and one that strives to cut corners at every turn, creating worse conditions for those entrusted to its care in order to squeeze out marginally higher turnover. This is an industry which does not vet its workers, which even hires carers using Jobbridge and other unregulated government “job creation” schemes, which significantly undermines the importance of having fully qualified workers, who are invested in creating the best outcomes for those under their care – which should, of course, be the primary function of the caring industry.

Caring in our society, therefore, is a job which is undervalued, underpaid and ultimately not respected. This directly results in people who are wholly unsuitable to the work of caring, as seen in the Prime Time investigates program, being placed in roles that they should never have been allowed to do in the first place. This also results in the many workers who excel in their jobs and who genuinely do their best for those in their care not being recognised for their good work. Is it unexpected that they do not feel safe in whistleblowing?

The problems then are manifold and interconnected. Firstly, the problem of underfunding results in the underpayment of carers, which has the secondary effect of our brightest and best leaving Ireland to work elsewhere. This then leads to a situation in which those who are unsuitable for the job are the only ones willing to do it and once in these positions these vulnerable workers feel unsafe in reporting abuses when they see them, out of a lack of either experience or job security. The fact that caring services are underfunded is not a new one and has been pointed out countless times, therefore when abuses happen which can be directly linked to underfunding, it is disingenuous for elected officials to say that they are unaware that these problems exist.

Why has underfunding systemically occurred? The harsh truth is that for Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail, appealing to a middle-class, middle-aged demographic, talking about the complex, ugly problems we have in providing care for the most vulnerable in society is not seen as a vote-winning strategy. What the parties perceive as vote winning is to talk about cutting taxes for the rich, or to talk about ‘job creation’, even if they are underpaid Jobsbridge jobs which in this case are actively harming those in care.  Most of the state’s most valuable services are losing out to this disgraceful tide of populism.

The second part of the problem, and one that our government has clear power to address, but have not done so, is the complete lack of oversight and effective regulation. It’s not enough to call for another retrospective investigation. It’s not enough to limit ourselves to this one specific incident and to go back to thinking that this abuse isn’t happening systemically, until the next Primetime special gives the Irish public and their representatives a wake-up call.

The Young Greens agree that an investigation is necessary, but we would suggest further measures to deal with the cultural problems in the caring industry. Carers need to be vetted, well qualified and well paid. It must be recognised that as workers, carers must be cared for as well. A worker secure in their position is much more likely to voice their concerns when they see abuse happening, and is better equipped to perform their job to the best of their ability. An abusive worker, such as those featured on Primetime, must be made fully aware that they will be caught and that they will be punished severely for the harm that they have inflicted.

How do we achieve this? A simple and effective strategy would be to change the way that inspections are carried out. Inspections need to be unannounced and undercover, as suggested by HSE head Tony O’ Brien. What is equally important is that those reports must then be acted on – something an understaffed and underfunded HSE and HIQA have struggled to do. A report condemning certain behaviours which is not acted on, and there are many of them, can be easily ignored by those engaged in abusive practice. Workers in the care industry must also be provided with a greater level of CPD (Continuing Professional Development) and training. We must ensure that workers are fully equipped to provide a high standard of care that is an enriching and empowering experience for the most vulnerable in society.

The footage filmed at Áras Attracta made for heart-wrenching and sickening viewing. Politicians are quick to condemn but they are not so quick to accept responsibility for their past inaction, or to use their position of power to help in a meaningful way. Condemning is easy, curing is another matter. The Young Greens accept that the state that we were a part of has a responsibility. We don’t want to merely issue yet another statement on it; we want to ensure this does not happen again. We want a society where every person is valued for their humanity and what their personhood contributes to society. We do not want a society that sees our most vulnerable members as economic and social burdens, as the current government seems determined to view them. As seen from the treatment of people with disabilities, the elderly, people who are homeless, the unemployed or asylum seekers.

People with disabilities have been patronised, disempowered and actively abused by the Irish State for too long. The system of care for people with disabilities must be based on user experience, empowerment and facilitating everyone to participate fully in society in a way that’s autonomous and enriching. The Young Greens call on the Government to start implementing disability law similar to laws enacted in the British Columbia district in Canada and create the legal framework required for Assisted Decision Making; a decision making process centred around enhancing the autonomy of the person with a disability. The Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Bill 2013 is a step in the right direction, but in its current form it does not go far enough and it is doubtful that the current government would actually invest the resources necessary into a system of assisted decision making; even though increasing the autonomy and giving a stronger voice to people with disabilities would do a lot to counter the existing culture of abuse towards them. We should be addressing the cause and preventing abuse happening, rather than doing nothing and then reacting in shock over and over again.

Lorna Bogue – Chair of the Young Greens

Young Greens show solidarity for people in Direct Provision – 20/11/2014

Young Greens with Cllr. Malcolm Noonan

Young Greens with Cllr. Malcolm Noonan

http://www.irishrefugeecouncil.ie/

http://www.nascireland.org/

http://www.mrci.ie/

http://akidwa.ie/

The Young Greens are calling for an end to direct provision for asylum seekers in Ireland. Fundamentally, direct provision is a violation of basic human rights and basic human dignity. We acknowledge the dreadful harm that has been done to people seeking asylum in this country by past governments, including the Fianna Fáil/Green coalition.

Having taken part in today’s protest outside Leinster House and the Department of Justice, the Young Greens are fully committed to ending direct provision and making up for the mistakes of current and past governments. Politics today is lacking any acceptance of responsibility and any acceptance of the damage that governments can do when certain decisions are made. Especially in light of the role the Greens had before in a government that took these decisions, we decided that, unlike the other parties who fostered and engaged in this system, it is time to take responsibility for a series of mistakes that we were part of. We are not willing to stand idly by, bury our heads in the sand and do nothing to help bring an end to this crisis. In going to today’s protest we hoped to show solidarity and use what platform we have to help amplify the voices of those leading this necessary campaign.

The way that this country treats those who come looking for our help is abhorrent. As was pointed out today at the protest, migration is a part of Irish history. Throughout history, and even in the present day, many Irish people have been left with no option but to leave their homeland. The many Irish communities that exist around the globe are a testament to this migration, which was done as an effort to survive. As is well documented, the Irish abroad were so often treated as second class citizens and were unjustly abused and exploited in their new homelands. To deny that part of our culture and the similarities we share with other cultures is ignorant. To act as if we have learned nothing from our history, to treat those who come to this country is the same shameful manner as we ourselves were treated is a grave mistake. Unfortunately this mistake has been made by Irish people and their representatives for too long, as seen on an individual level in the intimidation of ethnic minorities in Waterford last month, and on a systematic level in the abusive practice of direct provision.

As far as the Young Greens are concerned, we stand in solidarity with the families who have been effectively imprisoned by the state. We stand in solidarity with who are trapped in an abusive system by inefficiency and bureaucracy. These people’s rights are being denied today and every day and will continue to be so until the system of direct provision is ended.

The Young Greens/ Óige Ghlas

The Beef Protests and the Larger Issue of the Mismanagement of the Irish Agriculture Sector 12/11/2014

Young Greens Chair, Lorna Bogue, in solidarity with Farmers

Young Greens Chair, Lorna Bogue, in solidarity with Farmers

Yesterday afternoon, the 48 hour protest by members of the Irish farming community against unfair beef prices that took place at 12 of the nation’s largest meat factories came to an end. Despite this, very few of the problems raised by these farmers have been resolved. Lorna Bogue, Chair of the Young Greens/Óige Ghlas, attended one of the protests in Charleville to get an insight into how this is affecting those who are demonstrating.

“Irish beef farmers appear to be in a catch-22 situation. Around 70% of meat processors in Ireland are owned by three companies”, Bogue said. “These companies, because they have such large market share, are able to dictate what price they’ll pay for the cattle that farmers bring in to them. This puts beef farmers in the difficult position of not knowing what price they will be able to sell their cattle for, so the likelihood of a farmer having a bad year, i.e. buying too many cattle, incurring the cost of raising these cattle and then being unable to sell them for a profit, is much greater. This results in farmers either having to take a greater risk the following year, going into debt, or simply not farming anymore.”

“Many of the farmers I was talking to yesterday believe that the meat processors, particularly the three largest processors, appear to be a functional cartel (fixing the prices amongst themselves). The Young Greens would agree with this view and would call for an investigation as to whether meat processors are engaging in price fixing in Ireland. Action on price fixing was asked for by the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmer’s association back in February of this year[1], but was ignored by Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney. Many of the issues being flagged right now are ones which have been flagged for a long time”.

It is the view of the Young Greens that the regulations in place are unfair to smaller farmers. It is also our view that the privatisation of beef co-operatives had incredible negative consequences, not only for farmers looking for a fair price, but also for the average consumer. As our chair elaborated, “a further problem that is faced by beef farmers is that they have to conform to what are quite arbitrary standards from meat processors. Given that the meat processors have such a hold on the market, given that there is nowhere else that they can go to sell their cattle, the farmers must conform to the regulations, which seem to be designed to lower the price that meat processors have to pay for cattle.”

“The fact that there are so few options for farmers outside of the big players is as a direct result of government after government supporting the creation of large private companies which largely focus on export. Although these companies may have started off as part of the co-op movement, the fact of the matter is that they are now private companies, beholden only to their shareholders and not farmers, or indeed citizens of this state. One has only to look at Glanbia, who has been found lately to be moving money through Luxembourg to avoid taxes[2] to see that this is the case.”

[1] http://www.independent.ie/business/farming/new-icsa-chief-wants-action-on-deepening-bull-beef-crisis-29975329.html

[2] http://www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/glanbia-s-1bn-luxembourg-move-to-cut-its-irish-tax-bill-1.1989452

by Diarmuid Burke – Branch Coordinator

The Young Greens call for an end to anti-Roma bigotry 26/10/2014

Originally posted: https://www.facebook.com/notes/young-greens-%C3%B3ige-ghlas/the-young-greens-call-for-an-end-to-anti-roma-bigotry-26102014/10152523504084790 

Yesterday evening in Waterford a gang of individuals gathered outside of the home of a Roma family in order to have what was described as a “peaceful protest”.

We, the Young Greens, fully condemn this action, because we see this as an act fuelled entirely by ignorance and racism.

‘This wasn’t racist, it’s a peaceful protest’:

Imagine for a moment that a large group of people gathered outside of your home.  They may not throw stones; they may not hurl insults at you, in fact they may not say anything. However, one does not need to be assaulted, whether physically or verbally, to be intimidated, and there is no way that this form of intimidation was just.

To have a large gang of people standing outside of your home with the sole intention of letting you know that you and any one of your ethnicity are not welcome in the community is an action which is inherently aggressive and contrasts sharply with the claim that this was “peaceful”. We would also say that racism in and of itself is a violent structure.

This action was an action that targets a group of people in a personal capacity. These individuals are not trying to affect change upon a broken system. They are simply parroting the scapegoating that the Roma people have been subject to from those in positions of power and from an often biased media that seeks to cement the position of those in said power. This was not a “protest”, this was an angry mob.

Were those involved in this “protest” to gather outside of the home of an Irish family who they suspected of committing crimes, they would be condemned out of hand. Were an Irish family at the centre of the debacle taking place then the immediate response of everyone involved would be to let the justice system do its job, and to condemn the intimidation of the family in question. But for a Roma family the situation is different, the fear that this family must be feeling isn’t treated similarly. The ugly truth is that this lack of sympathy is solely because these people are Roma.

‘This is justified because all Roma are involved in criminal gangs’

It is extremely disheartening that Irish people, of all people, would view the Roma in such a negative light, that so many still believe that the Roma as a people are inherently criminals. This is particularly disappointing because we as a people had had to endure similar stereotypes in the past, because failures in the social system made it economically necessary to emigrate. Irish people have been particularly harmed by caricatures which painted us as drunk, violent criminals who were abusive towards our families. Many cartoons and articles existed in which Irish people were portrayed as ‘subhuman’. And now, knowing that harm, we have fallen into the same trap as those who actively oppressed us, we have become oppressors ourselves. Stereotyping was wrong when it happened to the Irish people and it is equally wrong now when we stereotype the Roma culture, the culture of a people who have also experienced hardships.

The Young Greens are not content with standing idly by while such intimidation occurs. We stand with groups like Waterford against Racism ( http://tinyurl.com/pf2fjb3), and Pavee Point ( http://tinyurl.com/oj6gejo) who are fighting against this kind of harassment and discrimination. We encourage every party to stand with us in denouncing this racist behaviour and to make clear statements condemning the actions of the last few days. At this point in time the citizens of this country need solidarity, we all need to stand together. Racism is something which is unquestionably abhorrent and should never be tolerated. A clear line must be drawn between lazy, dangerous racist stereotyping and the risks it poses on a local and national level.

The Young Greens/ An Óige Ghlas