Brexit and housing crisis set to dominate Ictu conference

Membership in congress-affiliated unions fell by 1% in last year

Ictu general secretary Patricia King:   “The housing crisis in the Republic represents a policy failure of major proportions and provides ample proof of how the needs of working people have been neglected.” Photograph: Eric Luke

Ictu general secretary Patricia King: “The housing crisis in the Republic represents a policy failure of major proportions and provides ample proof of how the needs of working people have been neglected.” Photograph: Eric Luke

 

The Irish trade union movement will meet for its biennial conference this week with Brexit, the housing crisis and workplace rights set to feature high on its agenda.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) has 44 affiliated unions north and south of the Border, representing about 724,000 workers.

A new report of the Ictu executive council shows that number of members represented by affiliated unions fell slightly, by about 1 per cent, in the last year – with the more significant reductions being experienced in Northern Ireland.

The report says that at the beginning of 2017 membership of affiliated unions stood at 723,976 compared to 731,324 in 2016, a decrease of 1 per cent in the 12-month period.

A breakdown of the figures shows that while membership of affiliated trade unions in the Republic of Ireland fell by 975 over the last year, those in Northern Ireland saw their membership base reduce by 6,373.

The report says Ictu recorded a deficit of about €116,000 last year. Its income fell from €4.7 million to €3.9 million between 2015 and 2016, largely due to a reduction in funding from grants. However, its staffing costs also reduced by about €350,000.

The conference will open on Tuesday with an address by President Michael D Higgins who is expected to examine the issue of the future of work and precarious employment.

The biennial conference in Belfast takes place at a time of divisions between two significant Congress-affiliated unions, Siptu and Unite, over crane operators who are currently involved in a dispute with their employers in the construction industry.

Crane operators

An Ictu disputes committee has been hearing a complaint by Siptu that Unite is breaching inter-union agreements by recruiting crane operators on a national basis.

In the public service in the Republic, which accounts for nearly 300,000 union members, there have been divisions between groups, most noticably the opposition by a number of larger unions to calls by nurses and doctors for special pay rises to address recruitment and retention difficulties.

In the biennial conference, which runs from Tuesday until Thursday, Brexit, the housing crisis and workers’ rights are likely to be at the forefront of the debates.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Ictu general secretary Patricia King said the key concern of delegates and members was “the need to rebuild societies north and south of the Border that have been fractured by many years of austerity and cuts”.

“The housing crisis in the Republic represents a policy failure of major proportions and provides ample proof of how the needs of working people have been neglected.

Social fabric

“Our focus now must be on how we can repair that social fabric and create decent work and decent opportunities at all levels of the economy, north and south,” Ms King said.

She said the trade union movement “must also work to ensure that Brexit does not become a pretext for dismantling worker rights and protections and driving standards down to the lowest common denominator, across the island”.

The Ictu report says average weekly earnings in the Republic were about one-fifth of 1 per cent higher in real terms across all sectors, in the final quarter of 2016 than the same quarter in 2008 . However, it said in nominal terms, average weekly earnings dropped by about €5 per week in the same period – from €721 per week to an average of €716 per week .