The conference, which begins in Belfast this morning, will consider the Future Positive compiled by ICTU general secretary David Begg, which lays out a potential roadmap for the restructuring of the entire trade union movement in this country.
One informed sources said that restructuring would be designed “to meet the challenges of the next century”. It would involve an entire new constitution with the rationalisation process to potentially follow a similar course to the FNV trade union movement in Holland which re-divided itself into broader sectors such as FNV health and FNV education.
The source said the current situation with 48 affiliated unions for an island this size is “incoherent”.
“Those difficulties were exposed in the Haddington and Croke Park processes,” said the source.
It is understood the larger unions, whose support would be crucial to its success, are broadly on board meaning significant change could be in place as early as the 2015 biennial conference. In the two years since the last conference there have been behind-the-scenes talks about where mergers might be possible between like-minded unions in various sectors.
Among the other key topics in this year’s conference will be the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (FEMPI) legislation introduced by the Government to secure savings from those public service unions which did not sign the Haddington Road Agreement.
ICTU sources said it would be keen to make clear it was fully opposed to the FEMPI measures.
“It is a very crude tool and if it stays on the books it could be used for a whole variety of things,” said a source. “And also, it completely undermines the process of collective bargaining. How can you have protective bargaining when the employer has behind its back a tool which effectively negates everything you are trying to do because if you don’t agree it will be introduced by law anyway?”
Collective bargaining will also be up for discussion, with union leaders hoping Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore will be able to give delegates reassurances that Government will honour its pledge under the Programme for Government by introducing effective collective bargaining legislation in 2013.
ICTU has been a long-term opponent of the Government’s austerity measures and it is likely countless delegates will call on the executive to up its campaign to convince the Government that austerity has failed and economic stimulus is the only way forward.