The Committee received Mr Reidy, General Secretary, ICTU. Mr Reidy thanked
Members and Officers for granting him an opportunity to address the Committee. He presented in detail the content of the policy document on the Trade Union Campaign for “Better Work Better Lives” which addressed the following areas:
The Issue is Quality, not Quantity
Invest in Skills, Infrastructure and Services
Scrap the Public Sector Pay Cap
Policy Areas for Consideration
In conclusion Mr Reidy made specific reference to the following three major issues upon which the campaign was based:
- Low Pay and Insecure Work
- Decline in Public Sector Investment
- Ending the Public Sector Pay Cap
He then urged Council to pass a Motion to support the idea of a forum for social dialogue which would provide a mechanism through which the aims and objectives of the campaign could be progressed and delivered. Mr Reidy welcomed certain elements contained within the New Approach document referring specifically to civic engagement, co-design and a suggested end to zero hour contracts. He said that whilst he did not have all the answers he could provide some of the solutions but stated that working together was imperative in terms of making progress.
Members thanked Mr Reidy for his presentation.
Members then raised the following points:
- Expressed support for the majority of issues referred to in the policy document.
- Acknowledged that better paid jobs were closely aligned with the whole concept and need for university expansion.
- Referred to the need to ensure progress on the issues raised and Council’s strategy in regards to the adoption of the living wage and the inclusion of social clauses.
- Considered the need for greater investment into public services as a major priority for the Minister for the Economy following the recently restored Executive at Stormont.
- Expressed support for the suggested establishment of a forum for social dialogue which would help to provide confidence in terms of forward planning.
- Endorsed the policy document in its wider perspective.
- Referred to a number of issues contained in the policy document which were central to the concerns of the wider Trade Union body e.g. childcare, social contracts particularly in regards to Derry in terms of addressing its legacy of poor investment and high levels of deprivation.
- Acknowledged the importance of a functioning Stormont in terms of addressing these issues.
- Referred to the opportunity for the labour movement to shape policy for society.
- Referred to certain aspects of the policy document which appeared to face opposition from the Executive and the controlling Parties at Stormont.
- Expressed concern at the apparent desire for the larger Political Parties to support large handouts to big corporations.
- Expressed concern at the familiar lazy narrative that the public sector was too big, a serious consequence of which was privatisation of vital public services in an effort to reduce the public sector. Increased poverty had resulted from the pursuit and implementation of such an ideology throughout the world.
- Referred to the recent strikes both locally and further afield in a necessary attempt to address the injustices imposed on public sector workers through budget cuts and the inequalities facing those at the forefront particularly in regards to health and education.
- Referred to efforts by Investment NI to bring better paid jobs to NI.
- Emphasised the need to address childcare issues which were preventing potential employees from taking up paid employment.
Councillor Cooper referred to the following issues which his Party felt must be progressed in terms of moving forward and which would assist in delivering the Campaign objectives:
1. The need for continued lobbying for an increase in the Block Grant which currently did not meet the needs of this Council area.
2. The need for independent fiscal powers and the ability to avail of regionally generated monies without which current austerity would continue.
3. Concern at the possible lack of access to the European Convention of Human Rights in regards to workers’ rights as a result of Brexit.
Councillor Harkin suggested that the Committee endorse the “Better Work Better Lives” Campaign policy document in its entirety. He referred to the sizeable context of the document which he felt would benefit all members of society.
Mr Reidy referred to the importance of funding and the Block Grant. He explained that the whole philosophy in regards to the issue of funding from central government and the Block Grant differed in Northern Ireland from other areas. He pointed out that only two regions within the UK were financially self-sufficient, with all of the others being net recipients. It was a fact that wealth was created and generated in cities from which it was subsequently distributed. He pointed out that NI was unique given its history and the considerable amount of necessary remedial work. He referred to the political consensus regarding insufficient funding from Westminster for NI. He stated that it was not that the public sector was too large but merely that the private sector was too small. He referred to the need to work with government to increase productivity and build NI’s role in terms of making it more productive
Mr Reidy referred to the crisis currently facing a local company amidst fears regarding the security of 66 jobs which reinforced the need to ensure secure contracts for employees and a decent living wage. He acknowledged elements of the New Deal New Approach document particularly in regards to workers’ rights and promoting collective bargaining, an ethos which he suggested could be adopted by the British government. He referred to the need to capitalise on this and ensure that government honoured its commitment. He reiterated the need to make NI more productive and to establish an industrial strategy and improve the situation by working collectively and collaboratively.
In response to a query from Councillor Reilly, Mr Reidy suggested that if required, he could prepare a formal wording which Council could adopt. However, it would be appropriate for Council to support a call for the establishment of a forum for inclusive and social dialogue.
Mr Reidy also pointed out that ICTU had prepared a specific Childcare Policy document and it was also its intention to produce a policy paper. He referred to the need for government spending on childcare to be redirected from subsidisation of childcare to supply and investment in childcare services. He continued that whilst female participation in the labour market had improved in recent years, there was still a large and persistent gap between men and women. It should be the aim of any government to enact policies to ensure that those wishing to partake in the labour market were enabled to do so.
Mr Reidy said it was necessary to ensure that a policy which sought to increase women’s employment was not one that led to the continued creation of poor quality employment in the care sector. This obviously had important implications for gender equality within the labour market as the majority of childcare workers were female. He referred to the need for drastic improvement in the pay and conditions associated with childcare work. This would not only provide much needed value to this essential work but also recognise the skill and experience required of child care workers. He concluded that unionisation and collective bargaining or a system of sectoral agreements was needed in the childcare sector. This would provide a mechanism to professionalise the childcare workforce through the introduction of a skills and wage infrastructure that could improve job quality.
In response to a query from Councillor Harkin, the Chief Executive explained that any Motion approved by the Committee would be presented to the February Council Meeting, for adoption, if so agreed.
Councillor Harkin said he would be willing to draft a proposal for presentation to the February Council Meeting.
The Chief Executive undertook to discuss with Members the mechanism through which any proposal agreed by the Committee could be progressed.