The Government should introduce a wealth tax and require employers to pay more to fund better public services, the in-coming president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) has urged.
Kevin Callinan called for an expansion of employer PRSI contributions as well as "meaningful financial deterrence for environmentally-damaging activities". He said this would generate adequate funding to provide "decent public services worthy of a wealthy European nation."
Speaking at the Ictu biennial conference in Belfast on Tuesday, Mr Callinan said employer social contributions in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland were way below the norm in other advanced European nations.
He said this accounted for the shortfall in investment in public services. He maintained that the tax burden fell too heavily on incomes, rather than wealth.
“Right now we spend far less on public services and infrastructure than similar European countries. Almost €3,500 less per person each year in the Republic, a total of over €17 billion in 2019 alone. The entire public spending gap between Ireland and its nearest EU neighbours matches, almost exactly, the shortfall in employer social contributions.
“That’s why our vision of decent public services, worthy of a wealthy European nation, would be funded by an expansion of employer contributions, increased tax on wealth rather than just incomes, and meaningful financial deterrence for environmentally-damaging activities.”
Delegates backed a new programme put forward by the trade union movement called “No Going Back’” which sets out a vision for a “high skills, high productivity” post-Covid economy.
Mr Callinan said: “The ‘No Going Back’ (programme) outlines how can recover and rebuild an economy based on decent, secure well-paid work. A high-productivity, high-skills economy, supported by investment in education, childcare and infrastructure.
“An economy where all workers earn at least a living wage, and enjoy a European-standard social wage with robust social solidarity based on decent pensions and a strong safety net for those unable to work.”
Michael Taft of Siptu told the conference that Ireland had one of the highest rates of low pay in Europe.
He said the abolition of low pay must be one of the first goals. He said public services like housing, caring, teaching and healing were not commodities to be bought and sold like a piece of furniture.
Mark Walshe of the teaching union ASTI said "No Going Back" was a great slogan but asked how the aspirations in the programme would be implemented. He said industrial muscle was required . He called for reforms to the 1990 industrial relations legislation which ruled out political strikes.
Separately Financial Services Union chief John O'Connell urged Ictu to officially endorse the application of an employee share option scheme in Bank of Ireland, AIB, Permanent TSB and Ulster Bank/NatWest which are either owned or part owned by the Irish or British government. The union also sought to have more worker directors on the board of the main retail banks.