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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 19 February, 2020

Bar workers are underpaid and undervalued. We want to change that

When major pubs across the country make huge profits, bar workers too should share in their success, writes Mandate general secretary John Douglas.

John Douglas

LOW WAGES, NO breaks and zero-hour contracts: these are just some of the challenges facing bar workers today. While sales and profits for publicans soar, staff in the industry are not getting their fair share.

Seasonally adjusted figures show that sales in the bar trade are up by over 10%, but many of Ireland’s 50,000 bar workers are experiencing poverty pay and rampant exploitation – a far cry from the quality jobs and decent pay they had only a generation ago.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how far the conditions of employment in the bar trade have deteriorated since the financial crisis began because of the limited data available.

However, the most recent figures published by the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) and the National Employment Rights Authority (Nera) paint a stark picture, showing:

Preliminary results from an ongoing survey on conditions in the industry conducted by Mandate campaign show many bar workers are still exploited, faced with:

  • Very low pay
  • No allowances for unsociable hours and Sunday premiums
  • No pay scales and few opportunities for career progression
  • Zero-hour contracts
  • Split shifts and unfair rostering

What is perhaps more illustrative are the comments left by bar workers themselves.

One bar worker told us: “I worked in a well-known pub and restaurant in Dublin city for €9 per hour. The bar was extremely busy and I was constantly run off my feet, but during an eight-hour shift I would receive absolutely no break.”

Another said: “I work in a late night bar in Dublin city for €10 an hour on a zero-hour contract. I receive my roster one day in advance of the week starting and the roster changes throughout the week.

“It makes it impossible to plan my life and my financial situation is always completely unpredictable. Every month is a scrape to make rent.”

In some cases, breaches of the law are blatant and yet workers are afraid to “rock the boat”. Another respondent wrote: “I don’t get holiday pay or sick pay so I haven’t taken an actual holiday from work in two years, bar a day or two here or there. I can’t afford to pay for a holiday and also lose out on two weeks of work.”

Source: Mandate TradeUnion/YouTube

Worsening conditions

In the past, trade unions and employers represented by the LVA would sit down and negotiate rates of pay and conditions of employment for all workers in the trade.

It generally meant bar workers had a decent living wage, with compensation for working unsociable hours and an avenue to enforce their entitlements. It also lessened competitive pressure on employers.

However, the LVA walked away from this process several years ago, stripping workers of their right to have issues settled through collective talks. This has led to poverty wages and insecure hours, all benefiting the employer at the expense of their employees.

When major pubs in Dublin and across the country make millions in profit, bar workers too should be able to share in their success.

The new Industrial Relations Amendment Act 2015 provides for sectoral agreements which could drastically improve employment conditions for those in the bar trade.

The framework it establishes could see pay, overtime rates, allowances for unsociable hours and much more being set through talks between employers and workers.

That’s why this new campaign has been established by and for staff in the industry. Bar workers should be a respected and valued asset for the establishments they work in, particularly given the extent to which Ireland markets the pub to overseas visitors.

If you’re out at your local this weekend, tell your local barman or barwoman to visit and together let’s lift the working conditions for all in the trade.

John Douglas is general secretary of Mandate, the trade union for retail and bar workers.

Read: Tesco staff have voted to take industrial action

Read: Inside Ireland’s best workplaces, according to the people who work there

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John Douglas

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