USI and SIPTU team up for workers’ rights campaign

The two unions visited NUIG, Athlone IT and LSAD this week to petition for the introduction of a living wage as part of a broader campaign on improving awareness of employee rights.

USI are campaigning in partnership with SIPTU for a living wage of €11.45 per hour to be introduced by the next government. USI claims that raising the minimum wage accordingly will “reduce poverty, boost local economies and ensure an inclusive society for all people”. The push for a living wage comes as part of an overall workers’ rights campaign with SIPTU.

Speaking to Trinity News, USI President Kevin Donoghue said that the campaign aimed to “build students awareness of the concept of workers’ rights and trade unionism”.

Donoghue said that with many groups like SIPTU and USI working on it, “the living wage campaign has come on leaps and bounds in recent years” and expressed his hope for a living wage to be introduced by government in the next five to ten years.

However Donoghue did express slight frustration that “nobody wants to upset anyone by introducing it [the living wage]” and commented that the approach from parties has been to encourage employers to introduce a living wage rather than raise the minimum wage. Aldi voluntarily decided to pay all staff a minimum living wage of €11.50 last year. Despite the voluntary nature of this decision, the USI President cited this as an example of progress.

Donoghue pointed out that parties of the left such as Sinn Féin and Labour are traditionally supportive of introducing the minimum wage, but admitted that “the situation is not ideal with Fine Gael”. However Donoghue was welcoming of the recent raise in the minimum wage and said that in regard to the minimum wage “we are in a better space now than we were three or four years ago”.

The campaign has involved USI representatives travelling to college campuses to collect signatures. According to Donoghue, after visits to NUIG, Athlone IT and Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD) their target of 2,000 signatures has been exceeded with almost 3,000 signatures collected so far.

Donoghue expressed disappointment at the result of the recent referendum in UCD which saw students decide to remain outside of the USI. He said “I think that they made the wrong decision” and predicted it would not help them in the future: “we are coming into a period of significant change over the next few years and it will not be helpful for UCD not to have the capacity to engage on a national level”. Along with typical student issues, Donoghue cited accommodation as a question UCD will have to address.

In light of the recent decision taken for the Students Against Fees campaign to remain independent of the SU, Donoghue underlined the importance of the distinction between unions and grassroots movements. He said that the two should be like “two yellow lines on the side of the road – they are always running together but you can see they are separate”.