Tánaiste says workers’ rights must be prioritised over profit-making

Joan Burton describes treatment of Clerys employees as act of ‘predator capitalism’

Tackling inequality is the most important issue facing Government, according to Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton. Referring to "the fallacy of trickle-down economics", she said for too long legislation had favoured profit-making over the rights of workers.

The way in which Clerys workers had recently been treated, when the store's new owners abruptly closed it making more than 130 staff redundant and leaving more than 300 concession staff with uncertain futures, was "predator capitalism working as social vandalism", she said.

“The next big battle will be to secure the economic rights of working people.”

Ms Burton was speaking at the sixth annual conference of Tasc (Think tank for Action on Social Change), the theme of which was “Economic Inequality: What Can Be Done?”


"You cannot solve big issues with small politics. And inequality is one of those issues – if not the issue," she said.

The central element of the battle against inequality would be on securing “jobs, pay and conditions”, she said.

The minimum wage (€8.65 per hour) would be reviewed annually and collective bargaining legislation would be brought through the Dáil.


Governments needed to “discard much of the conventional economic and social orthodoxy” and “step outside their comfort zone”, speakers said.

Professor Ozlem Onaran of the University of Greenwich said pay increases were needed across the economy to stimulate growth, avoid deflation and tackle poverty among the lowest socioeconomic groups.

He said the European Commission strategy of making the European Union one of the most competitive economies in the world entailed eroding workers' rights.

“Underpinning this grandiose strategy are ever more deregulated labour markets and policies that keep wages low,” he said.

A fall in wages led to deflation because workers spent more as a proportion of their income on local shops and services and Ireland and Europe needed a pay rise, he said.


Tasc policy analyst

Cormac Staunton

said Ireland had the third highest incidence of low pay in the OECD, with more than 20 per cent of workers officially classified as being on low pay.

Anthony Atkinson, centennial professor at the London School of Economics, said the stock answer of governments to tackling inequality was to invest in training and education. This was not enough, he said.

“The fact that there are people queuing to buy tickets to fly to the moon at the same time as people are queuing at food banks means we have the resources to tackle inequality and poverty,” he said.

Governments needed to take a deeper interest in the decisions made by large corporations, particularly those tendering to provide public services, he said.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times