Fórsa deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan was part of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) delegation when Leo Varadkar chaired a meeting of the Labour Employer Economic Forum (LEEF) last month. Kevin, who is a vice president of ICTU, was accompanied by ICTU president Sheila Nunan, general secretary Patricia King, and assistant general secretary Owen Reidy.
Established in 2016, the LEEF is a forum for dialogue between Government, unions and employers.
An Taoiseach was joined by ministers Paschal Donohoe and Heather Humphreys, and by minister of State Damien English as well as an array of senior officials. Employers were represented by Danny McCoy and Maeve McElwee from the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (Ibec), Tom Parlon of the Construction Industry Federation, and Ian Talbot of Chambers Ireland.
At the outset An Taoiseach indicated that the achievement of the Government’s objectives would benefit from consultation with unions and employers. Later in the meeting he referred to the fact that the country was entering a different phase and that certain senior officials would be asked to liaise with the social partners to see what structured dialogue might look like.
The meeting agenda consisted of an update on Brexit developments and a presentation by Paschal Donohoe on the Project Ireland 2040 plan. During the exchanges that followed the ICTU members pointed to the all-island nature of Congress and pressed the importance of measures to protect vulnerable workers and regions from the effects of a hard Brexit.
Kevin took the opportunity to raise the failure to include ICTU representation on the governing bodies of the proposed technological universities. And he linked the vision for our country post-Brexit to the debate on the future of Europe, arguing that mature social dialogue was just one element of a fair society that also needed to include collective bargaining rights, an effective social protection safety net and quality public services.
At the conclusion it was agreed that the next LEEF meeting would deal with the issue of pensions in addition to the standing agenda item of Brexit.
Speaking after the meeting Kevin said: “There appears to be a change of heart on the part of the Government in relation to social dialogue. It is too early to say if this is genuine or whether it will be possible to develop a useful engagement. For the process to be worthwhile it will have to show that it has the capacity to advance issues like affordable housing, SláinteCare, childcare provision and costs, occupational pension coverage and employment rights. We are a long way from that yet.”
In the margins of the meeting, Paschal Donohoe confirmed that he would accept an invitation to address and debate with the ICTU Executive Council. That meeting took place last Wednesday (21st March) in the Fórsa offices at Nerney’s Court.