Little sign of fairness for workers in PPF


It is clear from the combination of puff pieces, sticky editorials and bully-boy threats that the establishment is scared that the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness will be roundly rejected.

I firmly believe it should be rejected because it is fatally flawed at its very core. And I am not the only trade-union member to discern the threadbare reality of its promises, when all the Government double-speak is stripped away.

There are two ways of discovering how good or bad the agreement is. The easy way is to watch what key unions are doing, and the harder way is to examine the details.

It is most instructive to examine the attitude of the teachers' unions, a key public sector group, to this supposedly generous deal. They are trained professionals who can differentiate fact from fiction and plus from minus.

The ASTI has removed itself from the process. The TUI declined to recommend the deal. Despite the INTO executive supporting it, many members are voting against it. And everybody knows the ICTU executive decided not to recommend an agreement they had just negotiated.

Much has been written in praise of national agreements, but one vital truth has always been omitted: when the first agreement began in 1987 workers' wages represented 75 per cent of the national cake and profits a mere 25 per cent. Today only 42 per cent goes to wages and 58 per cent to profits. So, workers, you have delivered a massive 68 per cent increase in profits to employers, while suffering a 29 per cent decline in relative wages.

Hourly earnings in manufacturing are some 10 per cent lower than they were in 1990, compared with our main trading partners. A leading commentator concluded that "on this basis, we can certainly afford a healthy pay award all around".

We agree. But there is no way that 2 per cent in real terms is "healthy" or fair or equitable. Irish workers have maintained the competitive edge for Ireland at 910 per cent levels, and deserve adequate monetary rewards for creating that wealth.

Now let us turn to the central provisions of this agreement, pay increases and taxation. Not one single spokesperson or commentator has denied that the proposed increases were based on a constant inflation of 2 per cent, or that the average industrial wage-earner will receive, in real terms, an extra £1 a day, and workers on a mere £10,000 24p a day, if the deal goes through. Inflation is running at 4.4 per cent, and there is no inflation-linked provision in the bag.

SO the real prospect is that with continued growth rates of up to 9 per cent, and business owners benefiting from huge reductions in corporation tax, workers will in fact be gifted a negative increase. Not much prosperity or fairness there.

As for the taxation section, what is the deal? What does it mean when Government word-wringers say "ICTU's interpretation of the taxation proposals is reasonable"? Why have simple figures been replaced by linguistic prestidigitation? How could there be such silence regarding such a supposedly salutary segment of the agreement?

The reality is that workers on average incomes are still paying more than 50 per cent tax on every extra £1 they earn, just about the same as they did in 1987.

Meanwhile, employers will soon pay a 12.5 per cent rate of corporation tax, after all their costs and expenses are deducted. In contrast, could any fair person believe that in 2000, with all our success, people earning less than the minimum wage are being crucified by tax?

A certain prominent trade-union leader did the right thing when he pulled out of the negotiations over that disgraceful fact. Sadly, he returned to acquiesce in its continuance. Definitely not a situation of prosperity or fairness for workers.

We all want what is best for our children, for ourselves and our country. Social partnership should have the inherent capacity to diminish inequality and redistribute the fruits of our labours. Unfortunately, this agreement will make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

That a Government with such overflowing coffers would seek to browbeat low-paid workers into accepting a deal which would bind them to poverty, by threatening not to implement necessary social cohesion measures, is a travesty of principle.

To threaten to deprive our children of the necessary teachers and facilities which have brought us such success is shameful and despotic. Caring is sharing. There needs to be a lot more of both in this national agreement. It is fatally flawed, and should be rejected.

Mick O'Reilly is regional secretary of the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers' Union