National partnership agreement talks begin

Talks between unions, employers and the Government over a new national partnership agreement formally begin today.

After months of speculation, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has indicated it will be joining the other partners at the table in Dublin Castle in a bid to replace the current Sustaining Progress agreement.

David Begg from ICTU has warned the overarching goal of the new talks would be to ensure the country’s many social deficits were addressed.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Tánaiste Mary Harney and Finance Minister Brian Cowen will make opening statements as the plenary session of the new talks gets underway in Dublin Castle.

The Government is looking for a three-year social partnership deal and is hopeful that talks will conclude before St Patrick’s Day.

Congress is understood to be seeking to extend the life span of agreements with a six-year deal to allow policy goals to be achieved.

Following controversies at Irish Ferries, which proposed outsourcing more than 500 jobs, and the Gama construction scandal, where Turkish builders were underpaid, unions have been demanding increased protection for both Irish and foreign workers.

The state’s largest union, Siptu, which agreed to enter the talks process, insisted any potential talks would take place as part of a two-stranded process to ensure integral issues raised by its members such as outsourcing of work and the exploitation of workers were addressed.

Siptu’s Jack O’Connor has reassured its 200,000 members the talks process will not move past the first strand of discussions unless the issues of exploitation were dealt with.

The community platform section of the partnership talks have warned any new national partnership agreement should tackle the high levels of poverty, inequality and social exclusion in society.

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