Regina Doherty eyes French labour reforms on visit to Paris
‘If we do nothing on the provision of pensions, they are not going to be able to be paid,’ Minister says
Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty was curious to learn about French tax incentives to encourage citizens to have more children. File image: Nick Bradshaw
Minister for Employment and Social Protection Regina Doherty completed what she called a “whistlestop” St Patrick’s Day tour of Paris on Friday.
Over two days, Ms Doherty met the French ministers for health and labour; the secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development; and executives from the Smurfit Kappa paper packaging company, the French telecommunications firm Orange, Air France and Brittany Ferries, both of which are increasing traffic to Ireland.
Ms Doherty also visited Tourism Ireland and the Centre Culturel Irlandais, and addressed foreign ambassadors and French parliamentarians at a St Patrick’s Day reception hosted by Ambassador Patricia O’Brien.
The Minister said she wanted to learn from French labour minister Muriel Pénicaud how she pushed through the reform of the French labour code last year. The reform “appears to be so seamless and so smooth I’m nearly envious,” Ms Doherty said.
After “a very serious hiccup” during the economic crisis, Ms Doherty said that “social dialogue is starting to develop again” in Ireland. Following extensive consultations, neither unions nor management “are entirely happy” with legislation she had sponsored on employees’ rights, “which maybe means that we might have hit the right note”.
Across Europe, Ms Doherty said, the ratio of workers to pensioners was diminishing. She was curious to learn about French tax incentives to encourage citizens to have more children.
“If we do nothing in regard to the provision of pensions, they are not going to be able to be paid out of current resources and finances.”
She has launched what she called “a very progressive pensions reform plan for the next five years.” Recalling the revolt by tens of thousands of pensioners over an attempt to remove their medical cards in 2010, Ms Doherty said it was not necessarily easier to enact reforms in Ireland than in France.
“Unless you bring people with you, it’s certainly not going to be easy. Maybe we’ve just learned the hard way.”
Regarding the announcement by the waste disposal company Panda that it will charge for collecting recyclable rubbish, Ms Doherty said that had never been the Government’s intention, but that the Government had not adequately educated people. “If it has a little recyclable sign on the package, people are putting it in their green or blue bin. Whereas in actual fact, the Department has a very different list of what will go in. We are creating this confusion,” she said.
It should be possible to penalise manufacturers rather than end-users, Ms Doherty added. “And you can be damn sure you won’t be getting apples in plastic cellophane then.”
The charge on recyclable rubbish “was probably a crude response for organisations who are only in business to make money… As a government, we need to lead as opposed to letting industry lead,” Ms Doherty said.
Asked whether economic damage from a hard Brexit could threaten social protection in Ireland, Ms Doherty said the Government had based projections on a 2 per cent growth rate, consistent with a hard Brexit.
“If we get a medium or relatively soft Brexit, then the economy will continue to grow 3½ per cent, so we’ll have more money to invest… Ideally, what the British want is all the benefits of staying within the single market without staying in… That’s a conundrum, but if we all want the same thing, then where there’s a will there’s a way.
“We’re all frustrated at the moment because we need to get past that impasse… We need a strong UK. By equal terms, we need a strong Europe.”