Congress General Secretary Patricia King on Brexit, Budget 2020, Housing and Collective Bargaining.

7 Oct 2019

PK Budget

The spectre of Brexit is hanging over North and South with major implications for tens of thousands of jobs. Of course there may be an element of brinkmanship in terms of political manoeuvres by the British Prime Minister and his pro-Brexit MP’s however, however we need to prepare for what may happen at the end of October if a deal is not possible.

Workers will face serious challenges and there may be devastating consequences for employment in the coming weeks and months if the British Prime Minister Boris Johnston follows through with his threat to exit the EU with no deal.

There are also issues of vital importance coming down the line in the months ahead; The Collective Bargaining campaign, Just Transition, the threat to jobs of workers at Bord na Móna, RTE, and the current government policy of under-investment in the public sector.

While we have had some success reflected in recent legislation on curtailing zero-hour contracts and access to banded-hour contracts, thousands of workers remain in insecure employment on low incomes, and in many cases are bogusly self-employed.

For all these reasons, at our recent Biennial Conference, it was agreed that Congress would lead a campaign to achieve Collective Bargaining across all economic sectors, and a guarantee of legislative measures to copper fasten trade union rights at work.

The social chaos inflicted by the housing crisis remains the single greatest issue facing this society, and it appears that we are no nearer a resolution than we were five years ago. An entire generation of young workers is now effectively locked out of the housing market, tens of thousands are forced into insecure and expensive rental accommodation, and the number of homeless is at record levels.

In October 2018, the Dáil overwhelmingly passed a motion to help tackle and resolve the crisis. It included a commitment to investment in public housing, measures to end evictions into homeless and ensure greater tenant security, along with the creation of a legal right to housing. To date, not one single measure from that motion has been implemented.

In terms of Budget 2020, an ICTU delegation that met Minister Paschal Donoghue recently, stressed that cutting taxes in the forthcoming budget would be entirely inappropriate given the totally inadequate level of public expenditure and investment in Ireland compared to other high-income European countries, and of the numerous challenges now facing the Irish economy and society.

The delegation urged the Government to introduce additional revenue-raising measures, such as the introduction of a net wealth tax, reforms to capital taxation and to PRSI, in order to provide some of the additional resources that are needed to overcome infrastructural deficits in housing, health and education as well as to prepare for Brexit and to ensure the sustainability of the Social Insurance Fund.

If jobs are threatened due to Brexit the Government needs to roll out a number of measures to protect jobs and soften the blow.  Though we acknowledge Government has put in place a raft of measures to help business minimise the impact of Brexit, Congress has put forward four proposals to support jobs and build resilience.

Among our proposals are that 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 ICTU is 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.