Don’t trip up on tips theft law, Irish unions warn government

A bill recently passed in the Irish parliament prevents employers from deducting or withholding tips from employees. However, the government has the option of blocking the proposed legislation

June 26, 2019 by Muhammed Shabeer
tips theft bill -Ireland

Workers and trade unions in Ireland are mobilizing support for a bill,  approved in both houses of the Irish parliament, to prevent employers from deducting or withholding tips from employees. On June 12, senator Paul Gavan from the Sinn Fein party introduced the National Minimum Wage (Protection of Employee Tips) Bill 2017 for a second reading and proposed an amendment to it. The amendment was passed by 25 votes against 14 votes, and the bill was passed without voting in the upper house, Seanad. The bill was introduced in the lower house, the Dail, on June 20, and passed by 75 votes to 41.

But according to reports, the bill still awaits clearance as every bill that gets processed through the committee stage must be cleared with a positive ‘money message’ from the government. The ‘money message’ procedure allows the government to block financial bills proposed by the opposition, even when it is in a minority in the Dáil. Article 17.2 of the Irish Constitution prevents the Dáil from appropriating public money for any purpose unless the government first recommends that purpose to the Dáil by a money message signed by the prime minister.

The Irish Times reported that the Fine Gael, the ruling party in the country, is not in favor of the new bill with the minister for employment affairs, Regina Doherty, stating that the legislation would result in the tips being taxed. The Sinn Fein claimed that the government was adding extra technicalities to the bill in order to complicate it and further delay its approval.

In its statement, the trade union, Unite, welcomed the Dail vote. It also urged the government not to hold up the bill in the committee and, in particular, not to carry out their implied threat to use the ‘money message’ veto against it.

Several workers’ groups and community organizations have been campaigning and protesting against the employers’ extortion of the tips given to the employees, particularly in the hospitality sector. In many cases, employers dock the salaries of their employees who receive tips, and the service charge deducted from the customers has also been diverted to the employers’ pockets.

Trade union spokesperson of the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI), Jimmy Doran, told Peoples Dispatch, “The bill on tip theft is a welcome development and the Communist Party supports it as no employer should be permitted to retain these gratuities meant for staff. We cannot let the culture of the kindness of customers be used as a method to subsidize low pay, as is the norm in other countries.”

“The hospitality industry has some of the lowest pay rates and poorest working conditions in the country. The majority of staff are on  minimum wage and work very long and unsociable hours, often without contracts on a casual basis. It is important that these rates are increased and employment conditions improved in line with the huge profits made by restaurants and hotels. Tips should never be seen as a substitute for proper rates of pay and conditions. The theft of tips by employers is just a symptom of the exploitation of workers who are already some of the most exploited in the state,” he added.

Several trade unions, including the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), Mandate, and the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU), have supported the bill. Community groups, including One Galway and One Cork, have also expressed their solidarity with the bill