Unions need to become ‘relevant’ to workers in tech and pharma sectors

Fórsa chief says movement not being made ‘any stronger’ by failure of member groups to come together

Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan has highlighted the need for unions to appear relevant to workers in sectors such as tech and pharma. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan has highlighted the need for unions to appear relevant to workers in sectors such as tech and pharma. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

 

The trade union movement needs to move towards representing workers in the technology and pharmaceutical sectors as well as the gig economy as the groups have been effectively ignored, a union leader has said.

Addressing Fórsa’s local government conference on Wednesday, its general secretary Kevin Callinan said he would “like to lead an attempt to make us relevant to these workers and to make them part of our movement”.

Mr Callinan said a renewed impetus was needed to implement a plan proposed initially a decade ago to rationalise the trade union movement, which has had limited success.

“Ten years on from the publication of the report on the Commission on the Irish Trade Union Movement I want us to get serious about its recommendations,” he said.

“At the core of the report was the view that we should move to a much smaller number of sectoral unions and that we should pool resources as far as possible. I want to initiate a fresh attempt to put these exhortations into practice. We know that avoiding them is not making us any stronger.

“If we are honest we should admit that a whole section of the workforce - that associated with ‘big tech’, ICT and digital, fintech and accounting, and much of financial services, pharma, biomedical services and the gig economy - has been out of reach for, and to an extent ignored, by the trade union movement.

“I would like to lead an attempt to make us relevant to these workers and to make them part of our movement.”

More relevant

Mr Callinan said trade unions were more relevant to the concerns of workers than ever before “and ideally placed to lead an alternative post-Covid vision for our workplaces and wider society”.

“ The ‘trickle down’ economics and the scaling back of the State, associated with the coming to power of (Ronald) Reagan and (Margaret) Thatcher, has had its day albeit after 40 years of dominance.”

Mr Callinan said he would be a representative on the high-level group on collective bargaining which had been set up by the Government under the aegis of the Labour Employer Economic Forum.

“It is vital that there is an openness to all possible solutions - statutory, constitutional and European - if we are to realise not just the right to organise, but the right to be heard and the right to bargain collectively,” he said.

“Although these are matters of fairness and justice we will need to simplify our messaging and language to win the support or ordinary citizens.”