Business supports must be contingent on improved workers’ rights
October 13th: In an initial response to Budget 2021, trade union Unite, which represents workers in all sectors, today said that the Budget fails to lay the groundwork for a move to a sustainable wage-led recovery once the Covid-19 emergency is over. Commenting, the union’s Senior Officer in the Republic of Ireland, Brendan Ogle, said that the government has missed an unprecedented opportunity to rethink the economy in the interests of society, and was instead attempting to address the new challenges posed by the pandemic using old and failed approaches. Those approaches, Mr Ogle said, will benefit the same interests who benefited previously, and leave behind those already left behind before.
“Earlier this year, Unite published our policy document Hope or Austerity, which charted a roadmap for a better and fairer Ireland following the pandemic. We highlighted the fact that, while innovative supports for businesses are undoubtedly needed and were called for by Unite, employers receiving such supports must engage collectively with their workers through the unions of their choice.
“Supports for businesses have not been matched by supports for workers: instead, those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and may have been thrown out of work for a second time by the Level 3 measures, have had their Pandemic Unemployment Payment cut with no indication of restoration offered by this Budget.
“The disparity between supports for business and supports for workers is particularly striking in the hospitality sector, where low pay and precarious working were the norm pre-Covid.
“It seems employers in this sector are to be allowed treat many workers like slaves while continuing to boycott the hospitality Joint Labour Committee, paying minimum wages, offering precarious contracts, stealing their tips, and now pocketing a significant VAT cut. The hospitality VAT cut itself is simply a reheated recipe from the last crisis – a pre-pandemic employer demand now met by the Government in its pandemic budget.
“By contrast, the Government missed an opportunity to announce a meaningful increase to the National Minimum Wage following the derisory 10 cent proposal recommended by the Low Pay Commission – a proposal which was rightly rejected by the trade union movement.
“Our post-pandemic recovery cannot be built on low pay combined with poor workers’ rights. A sustainable wage-led recovery means putting money into workers’ pockets, not only by raising wage floors and maintaining income supports, but also by enabling workers to negotiate collectively to improve their terms and conditions. It also means ensuring that businesses receiving state supports funded by working people have responsibilities to those same working people. At a minimum, as pointed out in Hope or Austerity, any business receiving state supports must engage collectively with their workers and with sectoral bargaining platforms such as JLCs.
“The pandemic offered an unprecedented opportunity to rethink our economy and eradicate long-standing structural inequalities. A focus on public services, publicly delivered – including a single-tier health and nursing home system, public childcare and a real and additional transformative programme of public (not social) housing – would have helped lay the foundations for both economic and social recovery.
“Today’s Budget misses that historic opportunity, focusing on short-term fixes and rehashing the failed approaches of the past. It benefits the same interests as before, and again leaves behind those who were left behind before”, Mr Ogle concluded.