Tax-cuts campaign is a ‘con job’, Siptu boss warns

Jack O’Connor claims the proposals would degrade public services and benefit ‘bandits’

Siptu president Jack O’Connor. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Siptu president Jack O’Connor. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

The campaign by political parties for tax cuts is a “con job” which will undermine public services and generate profits for “legalised bandits” in the private sector, the head of the country’s largest trade union Jack O’Connor has indicated.

In an address to delegates at the start of Siptu’s biennial conference in Cork, Mr O’Connor said in the run-up to the centenary of the foundation of the State in 2022 “all available resources should be focused on the primary national project of housing our people, caring for the young, the elderly and the ill, supporting our people with disabilities, and educating, training and reskilling our people in order to build a decent society”.

He said this would be a “laudable project”, and the issue of cutting taxes should be forgotten until it was achieved.

“The bottom line is that we must have decent public services, and it is far better that we fund them together as a community, through taxation, rather than allowing ourselves to be ripped off by private predators.

“Those advocating tax-cutting, which inevitably disproportionately benefits the better-off, conveniently ignore the fact that Ireland’s public spending, as a share of gross national income, is joint bottom of the list of EU countries and one-third less than the average EU member state.”

Investments

Mr O’Connor said while the Government would have a great deal more money available from 2019 onwards, after the structural deficit was eliminated, this would not be sufficient to meet the cost of investments required.

He said a more flexible interpretation of EU fiscal rules as advocated by Siptu and the employers’ group Ibec would release between €4 billion and €7 billion over five years.

He also said there was no justification in retaining the lower VAT rate for the hospitality sector which he maintained represented “a direct subsidy of €500 million from the taxpayer”.

Mr O’Connor said the tax-cutting narrative reinforced deeply ingrained and carefully cultivated misconceptions of individual self-interest.

“However, it is not in our actual self-interest as individuals at all. No delegates, it’s a con job! What’s actually being perpetrated under the guise of ‘promoting the incentive to work’ or ‘rewarding people’ is a different thing altogether.

“It’s the criminal degradation of our public services in order to facilitate the wholesale robbery of the people by a veritable army of land hoarders, speculators, licensed drug peddlers and corporate money lenders.

“It is time to wake up and smell the roses, delegates, because instead of paying tax to fund our public services, together as a community, we’re actually ending up paying twice as much and more to these legalised bandits.”

Collective bargaining

Mr O’Connor called for a new alliance to prioritise public investment in housing, healthcare, and education, and to guarantee collective bargaining rights for all workers.

He said public investment was the only way to ensure decent housing, health and education services, and that tax cuts should be removed from the political agenda.

“We need to forge a new alliance of genuinely progressive forces to prioritise public investment in housing, healthcare and education, and to guarantee full collective bargaining rights for every worker. That should be the priority between now and the centenary of the foundation of the State in 2022, and not any tax-cutting agenda,”

Mr O’Connor said it was “absolutely obscene that our major political parties are again promoting a tax-cutting agenda while children are homeless in one of the wealthiest countries in the world”.

The Siptu president also called for a referendum to be held to provide workers with a constitutional right to collective bargaining with their employer.

Irish law

Under Irish law at present while workers are free to join a trade union, employers do not have to recognise or engage with them for the purposes of collective bargaining.

Mr O’Connor said that in 2015 the Labour Party when in government successfully pushed for the enactment of legislation which progressed collective bargaining rights further than ever before in the history of the State.

“But workers in Ireland still do not enjoy a constitutional entitlement to participate fully in collective bargaining with their employers.

“This will require a constitutional amendment. So, we will have to work with everyone who cares about workers, about equality, about low pay, about precarious work and exploitation, to press for a referendum to provide for the fundamental right to engage in collective bargaining for every worker in Ireland.”