Higgins: Fight for fairness and security the 'defining battle for our times'

Addressing the Centenary Conference of the International Labour Organisation in Dublin, he strongly criticised the increase in precarious employment, contract working and casualisation, which he said was happening in many sectors, including aviation.

Higgins: Fight for fairness and security the 'defining battle for our times'

President Higgins has singled out the aviation and digital industries as among the worst offenders in reducing workers' rights, comparing recent developments in the world of work with the worst practices of employers in the 19th century.

Addressing the Centenary Conference of the International Labour Organisation in Dublin, he strongly criticised the increase in precarious employment, contract working and casualisation, which he said was happening in many sectors, including aviation.

The President also hit out at the decision of the United States to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, describing it as as "profoundly myopic and regressive" move that would subject future generations to a "bleak and volatile planet".

Describing the fight for decent work, fairness, security and sustainable advancement for all as a "defining battle for our times", he noted how online workers often are not covered by employment law or collective agreements.

Such workers seldom have access to social security, paid leave or paid training owing to the fact that the platforms require workers to register as self-employed.

He said workers were frequently expected to demonstrate flexibility, which meant an ability to readily respond to changing circumstances and expectations, often without adequate information or recompense, but frequently not matched with any security of tenure or appropriate income.

He said such "innovations" were only innovations insofar as they maximised profits for employers and reduced employees' hard-won labour rights, describing this trend as part of an "inexorable race to the bottom".

The President also spoke out against the austerity measures introduced in Ireland during the economic crisis, saying they ensured that the so-called ‘Great Recession’ of 2008 turned into an economic depression in 2009 that lasted for almost five years.

“This prolongation and intensification of the economic bust resulted in a deepening of the experience of, as well as a widening of the exposure to, a range of attendant social ills – including corrosive unemployment, particularly among the young – avoidable consequences that were a direct result of a prolonged period of forced, constrained under-investment by the State, many of which have not yet been resolved,” said the President, in his opening address to delegates at Dublin Castle.

President Higgins warned that the ILO's spirit of idealism and vital moral purpose was being seriously undermined in the context of an ongoing assault on workers' rights following decades of the pursuit of a neoliberal agenda, and also by the rise of political extremism, particularly on the Right.

He said it was most regrettable that we now lived in a world that had, in recent years, moved sharply away from concepts of solidarity and empathy towards extreme individualism, divisiveness and hate-filled rancour, disturbingly reminiscent of that which laid the seeds for the rise of Fascism in the 1930s.

President Higgins also spoke of how unrestrained greed as well as “unaccountable, accelerated and often speculative growth”, has played in creating the climate crisis.

He urged the ILO to use its leverage to push for fair, ambitious and binding international agreements on greenhouse gas emission reduction targets to tackle climate change.

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