'Talking shop' on public services exacerbating cost-of-living crisis, Fórsa head claims

'Talking shop' on public services exacerbating cost-of-living crisis, Fórsa head claims

Kevin Callinan said Ireland’s social wage, a measure of to what extent State spending on welfare and public services benefits people, is “very low by comparison to other modern European countries”. File picture: Maxwells

The slow pace of talks on creating affordable public services is exacerbating the cost-of-living crisis, according to the leader of the country's largest public sector union.

Kevin Callinan, Fórsa's general secretary told the union's biennial conference in Killarney that the impact of inflation on living standards “demands more than a talking shop”.

Mr Callinan told conference delegates this morning that given household commodity prices are set to remain historically high until 2024, “the value of Irish social dialogue will be measured by outcomes, not the number of meetings scheduled”.

He said that while the cost-of-living crisis is impacting residents of countries across most rich EU nations, people in “Germany, Denmark, Sweden... don’t have to fret about the cost of childcare, an unavoidable visit to the GP or A&E, eldercare fees, or even the rent – because these things are free or affordable through a public service-delivered social wage”.

In moving a conference motion regarding the “restoration and improvement of living standards above all other issues”, Mr Callinan said that Fórsa would pursue that agenda with a “single-minded determination”.

He said that, while he could not underestimate the scale of that challenge, there is now a solid basis for such negotiations given the employers’ side has acknowledged that the inflation assumptions contained in the most recent public pay deal, 2020’s Building Momentum, have changed significantly in the 18 months since its agreement.

“Workers, their families, and their communities are the victims of inflation, not the cause of inflation. I have made it clear that there needs to be an improvement in the agreement’s pay terms this year,” he said.

Recent discussions between unions and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the State’s budgetary watchdog, have seen the State accept that a change to the current pay terms for the public service will be the subject of substantive talks ahead of October’s budget.

Mr Callinan said Ireland’s social wage, a measure of to what extent State spending on welfare and public services benefits people, is “very low by comparison to other modern European countries”.

“Part of the reason is the relatively low rate of employer PRSI. But it's also because of long-term failure to properly resource public services,” he said.

“Sometimes ideology gets in the way, like marketized childcare, or two-tier healthcare.” He added that there is now “a chance” to bring about “transformational change” in tackling the cost-of-living crisis.

“Let's be very clear - if this opportunity is spurned or squandered then the blame for declining living standards will rest squarely on the shoulders of this Government,” Mr Callinan said.

Mr Callinan, who has led the union for the past three years, called for Ireland’s minimum wage to be raised to match the higher living wage, a measure of the minimum earnings required for an acceptable standard of living per international standards.

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