SETTING THE NORTHERN STANDARDS
Posted on April 08, 2016 at 03:08 PM
Peter Bunting, Congress Assistant General Secretary looks forward to the Northern Ireland Commitee conference in Derry
We gather in Derry on April 12-13 for our Biennial Delegate Conference to debate, discuss, take stock and plan for the future.
The key themes for BDC 2016 are Decent Work and a Fair Income – both in work and in retirement.
These are the essential components of any civilised society, along with the provision of high quality public services that meet every citizen’s needs.
The Congress Charter sets out the key elements required to make Northern Ireland a better place in which to work, live and raise a family. A strong economy cannot exist without a fair society.
The Charter identifies five key principles which I believe can achieve that goal. They are:
- A Living Wage which affords an individual sufficient income to achieve an agreed, acceptable minimum standard of living, taking account of the need for food, clothing, heating, accommodation, transport and other essential costs.
- Fair Hours of Work which provides security of hours and certainty of income. There must be an end to low and zero hour contracts and precarious work practices.
- Right to Representation & Collective Bargaining is the right to be represented without fear of victimisation and to have a union represent you in collective bargaining negotiations with their employer.
- Respect, Equality & Ethics at Work No one at work should be subjected to bullying or any other form of abusive behaviour.
- Fair Public Procurement Every worker employed under a publicly-tendered contract is entitled to enjoy all the rights and protections outlined in the Charter.
This is an opportune time to develop a broader social and political consensus on fair conditions of employment. To date, our campaign has focussed on seeking support for the Charter from MLAs in Stormont. In recent weeks, I have addressed some of our reformed and enlarged local councils, and intend promoting the Charter and its values in person to all 11 District Councils.
With the Assembly election looming on May 5th, we are keen to ensure that the principles outlined in the Charter are widely disseminated among both outgoing and aspiring MLAs, so that they may inform discussions on how best to develop our society and economy.
This ought to be a doorstep issue for every trade unionist to put to every single candidate.
For delegates to BDC 2016, these core rights for workers are battles that can be won.
This movement has shown its strength and gained wide public support for its constructive opposition to the ideology of austerity. Proof of this was the immediate and welcome rejection by every Stormont party of the provisions of the Tory Trade Union Bill.
The Employment Act - just passed by the NI Assembly - is a real improvement in employee protection compared to the fragile state of workers’ rights in Great Britain – conditions which could deteriorate further if the UK votes to leave the EU in June.
This is the subject of an USDAW motion to BDC, which supports the NIC position on a possible ‘Brexit’.
But we need to esnure we start extending those protections to all workers.
Northern Ireland has one of the highest levels of trade union density in the UK, with 35.2% of all workers in unions compared to a UK average of 25%.
But this still means that two-thirds of all working people are labouring without the protection of a trade union. This is most pronounced in small businesses, the much fabled ‘backbone’ of the local economy.
With that in mind, there are motions to BDC from trade unions and trades councils which call for Congress and its affiliates to raise the standards of all workers, to ensure that those improved workers’ rights become a floor and not a ceiling.
Also up for debate are the components of the Congress Charter, new models of industrial relations, management and dispute resolution, industry-wide collective bargaining, flexible working, and industrial democracy. All of these, when underpinned by a firmly grounded culture of human rights could revitalise our movement and its role in the continuous advancement in the collective power of our members.
Motions such as those mentioned show that trade unions and trades councils are thinking with creativity as well as compassion, as well as advertising the real advantages to being in a trade union: better pay, fairer treatment, more training and political influence.
We can demonstrate every working day, in factories and shops and call centres and hospitals and warehouses and offices, the practical values of the trade union movement and what a Better and Fairer Way of working looks like.
I look forward to BDC 2016 and hope for an invigorating series of debates which will embolden and enlighten our progress in the years ahead.
Finally, it must be pointed out that for the past two years the Northern Ireland Committee has been well served by the committed and efficient leadership of the chair, Jackie Pollock of UNITE, and he in turn has been well served by all of the Committee members who have their own constituents to serve in their daily duties.
Our thanks and appreciation to all.