Future Jobs, Investment and Growth in Ireland and Europe - Laura Bambrick Policy Officer ICTU

19 Jun 2019

Laura Bambrick  IIEA (2)

Laura Bambrick ICTU speaking at the Institute of International and European Affairs

Congress is the largest civil society organisation on the island, representing the interests of some 700,000 plus workers across the economy who make up our 43 member unions.

Congress is affiliated to the European Trade Union Confederation which represents 45 million workers in the 28 Member States.

To begin with, a general point:

At a European level, the trade union movement has repeatedly called on the EU to fully implement the twenty seventeen (2017) European Pillar of Social Rights.

It is clear from this year’s recommendations that the Commission is taking steps towards a more social European Semester, which we welcome.

And, we hope that the Commission will continue in the same direction in coming cycles, placing an even greater focus on decent wages, reducing precarious employment, more investment in social infrastructure such as childcare and housing.

Fields that are not only crucial for the Trade Union movement but also crucial to demonstrate the Commissions determination to deliver a more Social Europe, particularly in light of Brexit.

Turning to look at the recommendations for Ireland through the lens of today’s theme – future jobs, investment, and growth, I will focus my remarks on three particular recommendations:

  1. to address age-sensitive spending;
  2. to invest in a low carbon transition; and
  3. to facilitate upskilling for vulnerable groups.

 The Country Report and the Minister rightly identify the risk population ageing poses to the long-term sustainability of the state pension.

Ireland, like the rest of Europe, is rapidly getting older.

Fewer babies being born has been coupled with a growth number of people over 65.

A greying of the population presents policymakers with considerable challenges, as revenue and expenditure are adversely affected.

The pace of economic growth slows as we run out of workers.

At the same time, age-sensitive areas of public expenditure, such as healthcare, long-term care, and pensions, increases.

Pensions are where the largest increase in expenditure will occur.

To safeguard the sustainability of the public finances, it is government policy to make it more difficult to qualify for a full-rate contributory state pension and to increase the qualifying age for the State pension to 68 by 2028.

This, in a nutshell, is Government’s state pension reform plan, which the Commission recommends be fully implemented.

Congress has grave concerns for workers unfit or financially compelled to continue working as a result of increases in the State pension age.

While increases in the pension age are taking place in many countries, Ireland is currently on course to have the highest pension age in the OECD in 2028. Despite currently having the youngest population in Europe, second to Luxembourg. It is Congress’s position we are going too far too fast.

Equally, Government has no policy response to our falling fertility nor does the Commission view it as a challenge to be addressed by Member States.

We are addressing the long-term fiscal sustainability of our ageing population by responding to the increase in life expectancy but not the fewer babies.

Policymakers, at home and in Brussels, cannot continue to ignore falling fertility, it is too big a threat to future growth.

Taking together the recommendations to focus investment on a low-carbon transition and to facilitate upskilling for vulnerable groups.

Congress fully supports the Commission in their call for Government to prioritise these two areas.

Since the transition to a low-carbon economy does have consequences for workers, particularly in energy and transport, Congress is calling for the establishment of a just transition fund to enable workers to acquire the skills to thrive in a changing industrial context.

The same is true of workers in sectors with a high risk of job loss or substantial changes to the tasks involved in their job from advances in automation.

We need to make an investment to help workers transit to a low-carbon and the increasingly digital economy.

Workers need security and certainty, as much as companies do. Not to live in fear of losing their livelihood.

To close with a quick observation, Congress is disappointed that Ireland’s CSRs do not reflect the Country Report’s criticism of our weak system of social dialogue, whereas other countries have been asked to work on this.

If Ireland is to address the many challenges now facing the country relating to productivity, pay, working conditions and inequality, it is the firm view of Congress that Government needs to move our current consultative arrangements to closer alignment with the established models of social dialogue in our now peer countries, Denmark, Germany, Austria in which the social partners are closely involved in policymaking and have a proven capacity to contribute to balanced socio-economic development.