June 2012        

Survey shows retail workers’ reduced conditions


New research shows that 39 per cent of the members of Mandate experienced an average drop of €109 per week in take-home pay during the last year.
     Mandate represents more than 45,000 workers in the retail trade—which is now the largest area of employment in Ireland.
     The research is contained in a new report, Decent Work? The Impact of the Recession on Low-Paid Workers. It shows that the fall in wages is driven primarily by cuts in the working hours of retail workers, as well as increased taxes and levies.
     The report is based on a survey of members conducted by the market research company Behaviour and Attitudes. It also contains an analysis of this research as well as a study of recent data on the position of low-paid workers carried out by Camille Loftus. The report reveals that—
• 39 per cent of Mandate’s members reported a drop in take-home pay over the last year, with an average fall of €109 per week.
• Since 2011, retail workers’ hours have declined by an average of 4 per cent. For part-time workers the decrease was 5½ per cent, for student workers it was 13 per cent.
• The majority of Mandate members are on part-time contracts, working an average of 22 hours per week. More than half of these work their hours over at least five days.
• 60 per cent of Mandate members were willing and able to work extra hours in order to make ends meet; but fewer than half the part-time employees who asked for more hours got them.
• Many retail workers’ hours are subject to frequent change; almost half the part-time workers have their working hours changed at least once a month, while only a third have stable working hours.
     The report also revealed the effect that the declining income and changing conditions are having on individuals and families.
• Approximately a third of Mandate members are finding it difficult to adequately feed and clothe their families and to pay off household loans. 40 per cent are experiencing difficulty paying their mortgage or rent, and more than half are struggling to pay utility bills.
• More than 70 per cent reported that they had cut back on their spending so much that they can afford little or no social activities, and that they are now far less likely to visit a doctor, because they could not afford the cost.
• 75 per cent said that they are finding it more difficult to cope in general and suffer much more stress than a few years ago.
• Approximately 10 per cent had got a second job, and 17 per cent had begun to claim a social welfare benefit. For a significant proportion, however, these options were not available: 11 per cent reported that changes in their working patterns had made it more difficult for them to qualify for social welfare, and 13 per cent said this had made it harder for them to secure another job.
• Approximately 30 per cent borrowed money from a credit union or from family or friends; some borrowed from more than one source.
     Commenting on the research, Camille Loftus said that at the policy level there is little or no acknowledgement of the precarious position facing many retail workers, and that this is a matter that needs to be addressed by the government.
     Reforms to joint labour committees and registered employment agreements announced by Richard Bruton last year have the stated aim of making them “fairer, more competitive, and more flexible,” she said, with the hope of increasing job creation. However, these reforms fail to address the vulnerability of those in precarious work but instead are likely to increase its incidence and compound the vulnerability of these employees, leaving a growing section of the work force without access to decent work.
     “The incorporation of the EU directive in relation to part-time work is also an area that warrants re-examination. A more formal process, requiring employers to justify a decision to deny part-time workers access to longer hours, particularly where an increasing proportion of their work force is employed on part-time flexible contracts, would help to provide a better balance between the needs of employees and employers. Without it we are likely to see a growing incidence of precarious work.”
     She also proposed that the Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare established in the Department of Social Protection should give specific attention to the issue of precarious work. “The findings of this report make it clear that the social welfare and tax systems are not providing effective support to precarious workers.”
     The general secretary of Mandate, John Douglas, said: “This research shows that Ireland’s labour-market crisis will not be solved with a ‘more jobs at any cost’ strategy. We need to look at the quality of jobs that are being created, otherwise we will just increase the number of working poor.”

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