Workers must not pay price for Brexit, says Jimmy Kelly
Unite’s Fourth Irish Policy conference kicked off this morning (Tuesday May 23rd) with debates on the economy and workers’ rights. The agenda is available for download here, and below are selected remarks.
Introducing the economic debate, Regional Secretary Jimmy Kelly highlighted the challenges posed by Brexit and said that governments North and South will have to play an interventionist role to ensure that our economies are cushioned through the potential shocks and changes resulting from Brexit.
“Unite is determined to ensure that workers on the island of Ireland do not pay the price for Brexit.
To meet the challenges of Brexit, Unite is advocating three complementary policy measures.
- Firstly, an increase in the minimum wage with the medium-term goal of making the Living Wage the statutory floor.
- Secondly, an end to precarious employment practices, including zero hour, low hours and ‘if and when’ contracts, and provision of decent training and apprenticeships for younger workers.
- Thirdly, the introduction of a legal and universal right to collective bargaining, combined with the extension and deepening of sectoral collective bargaining structures.
Securing implementation of these three measures will be a priority for Unite in the months and years ahead”, Jimmy Kelly said.
Unite’s Regional Secretary went on to highlight the role played by the so-called ‘social wage’ in maintaining and boosting workers’ living standards:
“Unite knows that workers’ take home pay is just one side of the living standards coin. The other is the social wage: income supports and services funded through social insurance in the Republic, and social welfare in Northern Ireland. The social wage in both jurisdictions is very low by European standards, meaning that workers in the south pay a high cost for public services, those in the north are faced with growing waiting lists and the threat of new user charges. North and south, social benefits and welfare payments are wholly inadequate.
In the Republic, Unite has been campaigning to increase Employers’ PRSI to EU levels. This would raise an additional €8 billion for expenditure on public services and income supports.
In the UK and Northern Ireland, we are demanding a clampdown on tax avoidance and tax evasion: it’s time for greedy bosses and speculators to contribute properly to the cost of public services and the social welfare net”.
Moving Motion 1, George Burnside (Senior Rep, Bombardier) said that working people in Northern Ireland and the Republic needed an alternative economic approach:
“Not one where the state is shrunk and side-lined while the market does its worst but where the state – the expression of democratic will – is active in growing a better and balanced economy meeting the needs of our class”.
Seconding the motion, Marie Casey (Branch RI/109) pointed to the threat of Brexit for the economy and the need for a functioning Executive in Northern Ireland:
“The times ahead are challenging. We need a functioning Executive in Belfast to defend the interests of Northern Ireland’s economy – in a way we could never expect from Tory direct-rule Ministers”.
Ms Casey also pointed out that “In the Republic, greedy bosses are already seeking to use the threat of Brexit to increase the exploitation of their workers. ”
“We need plans – economic strategies – north and south – to mitigate the threats and risks posed by Brexit but also to charter our course making the most of any opportunities arising. Central to all of that must be the voice of workers. Unite and other unions that represent workers across the economy need to be central to the discussions and negotiations around Brexit; in Northern Ireland, in the Republic of Ireland, in Britain and in Europe”.
Introducing the debate on Workers’ Rights, Unite Regional Coordinating Officer Davy Thompson pointed out that:
“There is mounting evidence to show that enhanced labour rights are not only good for workers – they are good for the economy. Even the World Bank – scarcely a hotbed of radicalism – has argued that trade unions and collective bargaining rights improve economic performance, while the IMF has warned that falling union membership increases economic inequality.
But notwithstanding the evidence, workers’ rights are seen as an expendable luxury – or even a liability – by governments in Dublin, Westminster and Stormont”.
In both the Republic and in Northern Ireland, Davy Thompson said that Unite will continue campaigning for a range of measures including a medium-term strategy to increase the Minimum Wage to the Living Wage, and measures to improve access to collective bargaining for workers in both jurisdictions.
Responding to the debate on Workers’ Rights, Regional Co-Ordinating Officer Richie Browne said:
“Unite will continue campaigning for stronger legislation to protect and enhance workers’ rights. But governments should be under no illusions. Where there is an absence of legislation, where there are gaps in legislation, or where there is bad legislation, Unite will have no hesitation in acting in the proud tradition of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and James Larkin, and acting outside the law in defence of our members”.