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Restaurant workers want action over exploitation

Last update - Thursday, May 6, 2010, 13:55 By Rose Foley

As a waiter for more than six years at a restaurant outside Dublin, Oktay Gencoglu says he worked up to 60 hours a week – but didn’t receive overtime, nor was he compensated properly for working on Sundays.

Indeed, a review of the Turkish immigrant’s pay over the years showed that, for a long time, his wages were below the national minimum.
“There are too many restaurants like that that are exploiting staff very badly,” said Gencoglu, 42.
Enamur Chowdhury of Portobello concurs, saying that while Irish workers are paid the minimum wage, his experience is that non-Irish employees are not. Even more disconcerting to him is the recent push by the restaurant industry for a €1 reduction in the national minimum wage.
“We want to say to the Government: do not cut the minimum wage,” said Chowdhury, from Bangladesh. “This would make it worse for the workers, and then the Government would suffer too.
“If the minimum wage is cut, then we cannot pay rent and will have to go on social welfare. We don’t want to make problems for the Government. We want to make better lives for ourselves.”
Gencoglu, Chowdhury and other migrants have joined the Restaurant Workers Action Group (RWAG) in an effort to improve wages and working conditions for employees in the restaurant industry.
Organised by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI), the group has about 500 members – 95 per cent of them migrants – according to MRCI deputy director Bill Abom.
Members of the group have already taken their concerns to legislators, meeting last Wednesday week with TDs Willie Penrose, Damien English, Leo Varadkar and Cyprian Brady.
The Dáil deputies said it was the first time they’d heard from restaurant workers directly, according to Abom, who explained that the workers are seeking the Government’s help in protecting their rights.
“Minister for Enterprise Batt O’Keeffe has the power to shore up the system,” he said.
Wages and working standards for the restaurant and catering industry are determined by the Government’s Joint Labour Committee. However, the Quick Service Food Alliance – an industry group that represents Supermac’s, Bagel Factory, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and Abrakebabra – has initiated a constitutional challenge against this system, saying it is unfair.
The alliance, which says that high costs and reduced consumer spending have led to employee cutbacks, wants changes to the way that employee hours and wages are set.
According to union Siptu, the hourly minimum wage for restaurant workers depends on where and what they do. Cooks and chefs in Dublin or Dun Laoghaire earn a minimum o €9.51 per hour, while other restaurant workers earn €9.27. In all other parts of Ireland, the head cook earns a minimum of €9.92 per hour; cooks or chefs earn €9.38; and all other workers earn at least €9.31.
In addition to these minimum hourly wages, restaurant workers are to be paid time-and-a-third when working on Sundays and holidays and for every hour worked over 39 hours in a week.
Both Gencoglu and Chowdhury said that in addition to protecting the minimum wage, they would like to see changes in the law so that workers aren’t forced to stay with an employer whom they feel is exploiting them.
“I’m hoping they will protect minimum wages because otherwise the poor will be poorer, and they are suffering much more than the other people in this recession,” said Gencoglu.

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