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Employment issues dominate at outset of pay deal talks

By Michael O’Farrell, Political Reporter
TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern will focus heavily on employment standards when he outline’s the Government’s priorities for a new social partnership deal, at the start of formal talks this afternoon.

With the talks delayed for more than three months over union concerns at job displacement and workers rights, these issues will dominate as the social partners - including the Government, employer bodies, farm groups, unions and community and voluntary organisations - gather in Dublin Castle.

Union participation was secured after commitments by the Government to address job displacement and workers rights in a first strand of negotiations, before agreement can be reached on central issues such as pay.

Voting to enter talks on Tuesday, SIPTU president Jack O’Connor said there was a clear recognition on the part of the Government and employers that displacement and exploitation were of real concern to workers and the wider public.

He told SIPTU members that the only way to test that commitment was through entering talks.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ central demand on the issue of workers rights is expected to be for a completely new statutory body dedicated to enforcing employment standards, replacing the Labour Inspectorate and separate from the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment.

This is likely to be strongly resisted by Department officials, but is understood to have been raised at informal meetings between ICTU and the Government.

ICTU has indicated that it will seek a series of radical changes including an unprecedented six year deal, broken into three two-year pay deals.

The union also wants mandatory pensions, a move Social Affairs Minister Seamus Brennan has been flirting with for some time.

Tensions between public and private sector pay and pensions will also rank prominently in the negotiations, due to conclude by mid-March.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has called for restraint on public sector pay, saying increases could threaten the economy’s competitiveness.

ICTU, meanwhile, has warned its members that the talks should focus on addressing the growing risks faced by workers from globalisation - asserting that between 10,000 and 25,000 jobs were being lost to lower cost economies.

Speaking after ICTU formally agreed to attend talks, yesterday, general secretary David Begg said the negotiations were about much more than pay. The aim of the past 15 years was full employment, he added, but it was now time to address major social deficits.