Government urged to establish new social dialogue structure

Unions say they have no interest in centralised pay bargaining system

Ireland would greatly benefit from the establishment of a new social dialogue structure that would engage all sectors at a national level, the head of Social Justice Ireland, Fr Sean Healy has said.

Addressing the organisation’s annual social policy conference on Thursday he said in the post-Covid world, the Government should have confidence, that the general public would welcome new thinking in how our economy and society was structured.

“Ireland, and indeed the planet, face several crises ranging from pandemic to pollution to poverty; a situation where ‘business as usual’ can mean only social and environmental catastrophe. We have reached a point where adoption of a new social contract is surely a necessity.”

Fr Healy said Ireland faces significant challenges in the coming decades, including the housing and health situations, an increasing older population and the transition to a cleaner, greener economy.

“If Ireland is to succeed in addressing the challenges we face, the pathway to doing so must be founded on consensus, must be well-managed, and must be properly evaluated.”

Unions and employer representatives told the conference that they did not favour returning to a system of centralised pay bargaining that was one of the main features of the old social partnership structure that collapsed a decade ago.

Engagement model

The director general of the employers’ group Ibec Danny McCoy said his organisation backed the establishment of a more extensive social dialogue model. He said it urged the Government to reset Ireland’s engagement with employers and other stakeholders in a more structured consultation and engagement model which could support recovery, address Ireland’s long-term societal issues with inclusive and sustainable outcomes”.

“Issues to be addressed by a social dialogue model are now more about collective or public goods and services, specifically access to affordable housing, childcare, transportation and concerns for sustainability”.

“A new compact can be delivered not through centralised wage bargaining as it relates to the individual’s disposable income but now must reflect a more diversified set of factors by negotiating on the social welfare model financed through the social insurance scheme.”

“A future dialogue will ultimately revolve around the level of Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI) paid by employees and employers on their behalf rather than limited to direct wage rates. If PRSI becomes the instrument of change to address social welfare provisions, it will need to be agreed between the representative agents of employers and employees.”

The general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Patricia King said it supported a new social contract. She said unions wanted an income-related social security system and that it would have to resolve issues such as sick pay and pensions. She said unions wanted a single tier universal health system and an investment programme in public housing.

Ms King said unions did not have any interest in usurping the role of the political system or policy makers as part of a social dialogue process.

She said social dialogue must involve all those who have a stake in the outcome of economic and social policies and these representative organisations must have an opportunity to influence and shape current and future policies.

“We do not want a system of centralised pay bargaining that was attached to the previous social partnership model.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent