Ictu to press for introduction of EU collective bargaining directive

Conference told lowering tax base a sleight of hand as cost of services transfers to workers

Ireland’s trade unions are to press for European Union-wide legislation in a bid to overcome Irish laws that allow employers not to recognise unions in pay disputes.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) is to push for the introduction of an EU directive which would override national legislation, to harmonise laws on collective bargaining rights in member states.

Such a move, Ictu argues, would in effect establish the right to collective bargaining in Irish law, Ictu general secretary Patricia King told delegates at the organisation's biennial conference in Dublin.

“If adopted, the doctrine of supremacy of EU law would overcome any lingering doubt about the constitutionality of any legislative initiative in this sphere,” she said.


Collective bargaining is the most effective way to create more equal redistribution of wealth, drive down inequality and achieve gender equality, she said. “Without it there is no balance between capital and labour,” she added.

It has long been recognised internationally that the right to organise and collectively bargain were "fundamental principles", she said. Ireland had made pledges internationally but had failed to follow through, she added.

Supporting the EU-UK withdrawal agreement, including the current backstop arrangement, she said Brexit could “gravely damage” Northern Ireland and the Republic “economically, socially and politically”.

Describing the two candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, as "clowns" and "flat-Earthers", Ictu assistant general secretary Owen Reidy said they were "gambling with people's lives".

Sleight of hand

Lowering tax rates had superficial appeal for workers but was a deliberate sleight of hand, Ictu president Sheila Nunan told delegates, saying it was nothing more than "giving with one hand and taking more with the other".

Such cuts meant that the cost of basic services had to be met by individuals, she said: “Paying for services such as childcare or securing health insurance eat up multiples of any reduced income tax.”

Wages and employment remain the priorities for trade unions, she said, but action was needed too to improve social wage rights such as childcare, sickness benefits and support for families.

By European standards, Ireland’s social benefits to workers are low, she said. Ictu, she added, had produced “coherent” proposals about how Ireland’s tax revenues could be increased.

Technology is changing the workplace, but this is often accompanied by deteriorating working conditions, she said, citing “digitalisation, artificial intelligence, the gig economy and insecure work”.

“Our role is not to stand in the way of progress. But progress has to mean the same thing to everyone. When someone can work full time and struggle to pay their rent, their childcare or other basic needs, something is wrong,” she said.

Lower pensions, a two-tier health system, privatisation of early-years care and education, higher transport costs and underinvestment in public services all diminish the lives of workers and their families, she added.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

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