Sunday Business Post article on Jobs and Brexit, Ger Gibbons Congress Social Policy & Legislative Officer

9 Sep 2019

Preparing for Brexit ICTU Proposals to support jobs and Workers in the Republic of Ireland

While Brexit cannot be compared to the economic shock that hit the Republic after 2008 – when employment fell from over 2.2 million to just under 1.9 million by early 2012, there is no doubt that Brexit, and a hard Brexit in particular, would have devastating consequences for many workers. Department of Finance/ESRI research published earlier this year forecast that if there is a disorderly no-deal, the unemployment rate could rise by 0.5 percentage points within two years and there could be 0.8% fewer people at work than would be the case if the UK remains a member state.

ICTU acknowledges that a raft of measures has been put in place to help businesses minimise the impact of Brexit. These are summarised in the DBEI’s 90-page Overview of Government Supports for Indigenous Businesses, published in June.

In relation to protecting employment, the Government’s July Contingency Action Plan Update outlines the aim of helping businesses prepare, including to ‘build resilience to minimise job losses’.

There is little doubt that many of the measures announced can assist businesses that avail of the support offered. It does appear to be the case however that very few, if any, of these measures are directly aimed at supporting jobs and helping workers build resilience in the face of Brexit.

ICTU has put forward four proposals to these ends.

First, Budget 2020 should introduce an exceptional Short-Time Work Scheme to preserve jobs in firms that temporarily experience low demand due to Brexit by encouraging work-sharing, while also providing income support to workers. The purpose would be to avoid the permanent dismissal of workers whose jobs are viable in the long-run.

Second, many of the Government’s plans for labour force activation would only apparently be ‘activated’ after Brexit-redundancies are announced. This falls short of best practice internationally. For example, the OECD’s new Jobs Strategy, published last December, highlights the importance of shifting emphasis from remedial to preventative labour market policies, including to help workers avoid many of the social and financial costs associated with labour market risks.  ICTU is therefore calling on the Government to introduce a Brexit Adjustment Assistance fund to upskill workers at risk while they are still at work, particularly those taking part in short-time work schemes. This could build on Ireland’s experience with the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGAF), which has help support over 11,000 workers in Ireland since 2007, as well as similar initiatives in other countries.

Third, the EU is currently revising the rules that establish the EGAF. The Fund at present can only support workers who are made redundant because of changes in trade patterns due to globalisation or as a result of a global financial and economic crisis. It is not entirely clear whether workers made redundant because of Brexit could benefit. We would, therefore, like to see an explicit reference to Brexit in the new rules.

Finally, the OECD’s new Skills Strategy, in line with the OECD’s recent wider reappraisal social dialogue and collective bargaining, now emphasises the importance and indeed the necessity of the active engagement of both employers and unions for successful work transitions between firms, industries and regions. Aside from fora such as the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Brexit Stakeholder Forum, this does not appear to be taking place to the extent that it should, with unions much less involved or entirely excluded from other stakeholders’ groups, and at firm level. If the negative consequences of Brexit for business, workers, and specific sectors, regions and communities are to be minimised, this needs to change at all levels.

You can read the Congress proposals on Brexit here.