Friday 24 February 2017

Bertie Ahern: Next government needs to look at a new framework of social partnership

As the Luas dispute drags on and other cases come down the line, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern recalls parallels from his time as labour minister

Bertie Ahern in conversation with Ronald Quinlan

Photo: Caroline Quinn
Photo: Caroline Quinn

For nearly 30 years now we've had a good industrial relations record in this country through a combination of five or six social partnership agreements that gave us stability across all sectors of the economy. Social partnership led to circumstances where most industrial relations issues were negotiated and that eliminated most of the strikes.

Back in the early 1980s and before the social partnership model was introduced here, Ireland had one of the worst strike records in Europe. This seems to be the first time in over 30 years that we are drifting back in that direction. If we don't restore social partnership of the old variety, we have to introduce a new mechanism that will help to bind things together. If the country doesn't have such a mechanism, and we try to deal with each grievance from each employment sector separately, it will prove to be a nightmare. Dealing with industrial unrest on a case-by-case basis and in a piecemeal fashion didn't work that way in the past and I don't believe it will work that way now either.

With the current Luas dispute, and with so many potential industrial disputes coming down the line; the possibility is there that damage will be done to the image of the country. At a domestic level, industrial disputes damage productivity and they damage the image of the public service as people begin to lose confidence in it.

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