It is time for a fair deal for all
Published 03/04/2016 | 02:30
In the recent election, Fine Gael made a virtue of "more and better jobs" and "making work pay", two issues which go to the heart of the many problems which are besetting the country at the moment - specifically the growing number of industrial relations disputes and more pressing concerns in relation to housing, homelessness and escalating rent costs.
All of these issues are intertwined and the resolution of one without the other would be to tackle such problems in a piecemeal fashion, when an overarching and more holistic approach is required by the next government.
While the social partnership model of old had taken on a life of its own, over and above its initial remit, and in itself became part of the problem, the template of social partnership still has much to be recommended in terms of tackling these issues.
The causes of the housing crisis, increased rents and homelessness are complex and varied and will not be resolved with an overnight sweep of the hand. But the relatively low levels of pay, and the relative insecurity of employment, particularly for younger people and those who have only recently found employment again, are undeniably part of the problem.
Further to this, the current situation, where young gardai, nurses and teachers find themselves paid less than their immediate colleagues for doing the same job and so are of a view that they would be better rewarded in other forms of employment, either at home or abroad, is untenable.
In the political vacuum which currently exists, and even before that vacuum existed, the trade union movement spotted and has seized an opportunity to flex its muscles again on behalf of its membership, which has been set back in the years of austerity.
The public sector unions, particularly those in the transport area, have been first out of the blocks to demand significant increases, which state employers would regard as extortionate, just as those same unions were among the last to accept pay and pension cuts when the country teetered on the brink during the austerity years.
However, if a lesson is to be learned from that divisive time, then it is that all employees, in the public and private sectors, collectively deserve more and better jobs, and for the work they do to pay appropriately, according to their increased levels of productivity and consequent increased competitiveness, which have existed across the workplace for some time now.
The manner of the public dispute between Kieran Mulvey of the Work Relations Commission and Jack O'Connor, the leader of the country's largest trade union, Siptu, does not augur well for a process that is now required to bring these matters to a successful resolution. Both men would be well advised not to escalate their dispute any further.
While employers can be expected not to succumb to the demands of a threatened anarchical industrial relations sector, nor can they seek to avoid their responsibilities towards employees, now that the country has emerged from the dark days and is consistently posting the most impressive economic results in Europe.
To the long and growing list of priorities which await the formation of a new government then, can now be added the issue of industrial peace; that is, managing the expectations but also meeting the demands of the people who, after all, have rightly been credited, first and foremost, with taking the country through the economic crisis.