The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has today passed a motion to boycott Aramark, the company that provides catering services in three direct provision centres in Ireland. The motion was proposed by USI Vice President for the Dublin Region and former Trinity student, Colm O’Halloran, at a USI National Council meeting held in Institute of Technology, Tralee. The USI President and USI Vice President for Equality and Citizenship are now mandated to “support and assist the boycott of any Aramark run restaurants, cafés or services” and “assist MOs [member organisations] in campaigning for the removal of Aramark run services on their campuses”.
Speaking to Trinity News, O’Halloran commented: “It’s really significant that this motion passed as it means that USI can support grassroots activist groups in campuses who are campaigning for the removal of Aramark run restaurants on campuses. Aramark…profit off the direct provision system. This motion allows USI to include protests against Aramark as part of our wider End Direct Provision mandate.”
USI President Siona Cahill also commented: “We need to do everything we can to highlight what is going on in DP [direct provision]. The student movement needs to be part of invigorating public consciousness in what is going to be a shame on the already scarred patchwork quilt of our history.”
Cahill continued: “People just don’t seem to know. Our action in supporting campuses in calling for ethical caterers and businesses is part of that – there are committed activists on the ground and we want to elevate and support their work on this. We are already committed to calling and lobbying for an end to the DP system, and this boycott is one of the steps necessary.”
Aramark provides catering services in three direct provision centres in Cork, Athlone, and Clare, that accommodate 850 asylum seekers. According to the 2016 annual report by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), Aramark was paid €5.2 million by the Irish state for these services. Up to 2010, Aramark also received €16 million from the state. The USI motion noted that there has been consistent complaints about the treatment of those living in direct provision, and that two hunger strikes occurred in 2014 and 2015 at the Knockalisheen, Co. Clare and Lissywollen, Co. Westmeath centres respectively, after residents were hospitalised with gastroenteritis as a result of the poorly produced food.
The motion comes as students at the University of Limerick (UL) called on the college to reconsider its contract with Aramark which runs several restaurants, vending machines and cafes at UL. UL Student Life, the college’s students’ union, called on the college to re-evaluate its contract with Aramark if the company “continue[s] to profit from this inhumane system”. UL Student Life plan to host monthly demonstrations and boycotts, and meet with university staff to reduce Aramark’s presence on campus.
Students at Trinity and UCD also launched similar campaigns in the last year, with Trinity’s Aramark Off Our Campus campaign seeking to lobby College to discontinue its contract with the company, which runs Westland Eats in the Hamilton building. Trinity’s current contract with Aramark lasts until 2019, which is open to being extended until 2021.
In response to the decision by USI, Jessie Dolliver, a member of the Aramark Off Our Campus group, said: “I think it’s a fantastic thing that the USI have decided to boycott Aramark and resist the presence of direct provision in college life. The fact that this was a motion to begin with is a sign that direct provision is becoming a matter of national discussion. It’s something which we can’t brush under the carpet any more. The reason that direct provision has been allowed to continue despite the fact that it is a violation of human rights is because Irish people are intentionally kept in the dark about it – perhaps now we are waking up.”
USI also passed a motion today to support the campaign for pay equality for newly qualified teachers and “to ensure that negotiations are inclusive of the student perspective”. The motion, proposed by USI Leas Uachtarán don Ghaeilge, Aoife Deasy, noted the “financial difficulties faced by newly qualified teachers due to the two tier pay system, and that those who entered the profession from February 2012 have been placed on a severely-reduced starting salary which sees them generally earn over 21% less than those appointed prior to 2012.”