Generation Next: The Debate
Have young people been left to carry the can for the mistakes of their elders? DAN HAYDENand BLAIR HORANexchange views
IRC Government of Ireland PhDScholar at the UCD Centre for Regulation and Governance.
Retired in March after 15 years as general secretary of the Civil, Public and Services Union.
Dan Hayden:In his speech at the Democratic National Convention in the US last month former president Bill Clinton said that “we’re all in this together” was a better philosophy than “you’re on your own”. Most would agree with the sentiment, but when this country’s mettle has been tested in the crisis of recent years, one group has been very clearly left out on its own.Unions have quietly acquiesced to new entrants to public jobs having greatly reduced pay and entitlements than those who entered only a few years ago. Unemployment continues to rise, especially for those from the construction sector, who find their hard-earned skills and training useless. In response, many emigrate.
Worse, for those who can work, a mountain of public debt left by the last generation will surely mean worsening public services and higher taxes. Meanwhile, well-organised interest groups seem to escape all economic accountability.
Isn’t there more to solidarity than “holding what you have” at all expense?
Blair Horan:I share the philosophy expressed by former president Clinton and accept that new entrants to the public service will suffer disproportionately, but don’t agree that unions are to blame.
The Government was prepared to protect pay for serving staff only under Croke Park, and then unilaterally introduced lower scales. It followed a long-standing practice by employers in many countries of changing conditions for new entrants. I am sure that in future unions will fight to close the pay gap, but also expect that it will not be easy.
I feel part of the lucky generation that entered the labour market in the 1970s, and I am concerned about the impact of this crisis on young people. Three times in my lifetime young people have been condemned to mass unemployment and emigration. Disastrous economic policies and pure greed by sections of the elite destroyed this economy. As a society we need to agree on a long-term model of sustainable economic development.
Hayden:We need a good long-term model. But this is crunch time for our society and our economy. We need to get this right today.
Unions aren’t to blame but are they representing these workers? If there was a union just for workers under 35, what would it campaign for? I suspect that it would have very different policies to the status quo.
A young workers’ union would demand equal work for equal pay. It would demand that older colleagues who underperform would have to shape up or get out, leaving them some space for promotion. [It would demand] an end to the hiring freeze that bars a whole generation from public service, and more rights for the growing numbers of part-time workers.
Don’t unions, as social partners, have responsibilities as well as rights?
Horan:The pragmatic response to the crisis here compared to other countries shows that unions are aware of their responsibilities.
Fortunately EU legislation gives strong protections to part-time, temporary and agency workers, along with a ban on age discrimination. I expect that unions will use all of these means as required to represent new entrants, and I don’t anticipate conflict between younger and older workers. Performance issues can arise in all age groups, and are primarily a matter for management.