AUSTERITY is failing and has become a mantra without meaning – and the Government should freeze all austerity measures for at last 12 months, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions urged yesterday.
In a bleak assessment of the economy, which will put them in direct conflict with the Government, the ICTU said there are no "green shoots" of recovery, and the wealthy and the corporation sector should be targeted in the Budget.
General secretary David Begg proposed a freeze on austerity as part of a new Blueprint for Recovery designed to stimulate growth and create new jobs.
He warned that the social cost of austerity is too high.
Addressing the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union conference in Portlaoise, Mr Begg told delegates that the preservation of social cohesion requires that wealthy individuals and the corporate sector should be seen to make a contribution.
"The time has come when there should be no more sacred cows. The IFSC should not be allowed to write tax policy. Ireland should sign up to the Financial Transaction Tax. The shadow banking sector was the cause of this crisis.
"It would be unconscionable to let them off scot-free while needy elderly citizens are denied home help."
Mr Begg said the Budget we are facing is of seminal importance. "In my opinion it should be constructed on the three pillars of growth, hope and jobs. This means it must ensure a proper contribution from private and corporate wealth, areas that hitherto have been untouchable.
"The touchstone for whether that is to be or not, will be the attention given to executive pensions, occupational pensions and the eligibility criteria for the old age pension respectively."
Mr Begg said the wise thing to do would be to put austerity on hold for at least a year. He said this was now possible given that the European Commission has agreed new higher deficit targets for Spain. "If the door is beginning to open, we should give it a hefty shove. The social cost of austerity is too high and it is not working."
By extending the period of recovery to 2017 and implementing an investment programme – such as that costed and proposed by Congress this year – up to 100,000 new jobs could be created over three years, he said.
"No country, no society, can afford to regard so many of its unemployed citizens as expendable."