The Government’s Brexit strategy must be strengthened and expanded to prevent Ireland mimicking a likely bonfire of workers’ rights and equality protections in the UK, according to Ireland’s largest public service union.
Speaking at the union’s conference in Wexford today (Friday), IMPACT official Andy Pike warned that post-Brexit Britain was set to become a low tax, low regulation, low wage “beacon for exploitation,” and called on politicians, trade unions and civil society organisations to act to prevent the same thing happening here.
“Britain will be outside EU competition and trade regulations, and will likely offer subsidies and eye-watering tax breaks to attract inward investment on the basis of low wages and low regulation. Rising inequality will follow, along with further reaction against foreigners, immigrants and migrant workers. There will be voices urging Ireland to take the same course. Our trade unions, civil society organisations and progressive politicians must work together to ensure that it doesn’t happen,” he said.
IMPACT official Angela Kirk told the conference that British workers were set to lose important rights, which were rooted in EU treaties and directives. “British trade unions are gravely concerned about the threat to workers’ rights in a post-Brexit scenario. While the majority of European legislation has been transposed into UK law, there is a danger that important rights and obligations –covering gender equality, health and safety, working time, part-time workers’ rights, and more – could be removed.
“That will place downward pressure on employment protections across the island of Ireland. Our Government needs to develop a strategy to protect jobs and employment standards in the event of a hard Brexit,” she said.
Blair Horan, secretary of the trade union ‘Charter Group,’ called on the Government to establish a special task force, with employer and worker representation, to lobby the European Commission for urgent measures to protect employment in sectors that are highly dependent on exports to the UK and Northern Ireland. He said Ireland should seek:
- An ‘enterprise stabilisation fund,’ along the lines of the 2009-2011 fund administered by Enterprise Ireland. This would include direct grants, repayable grants, or interest subsidies to assist manufacturing firms
- An exchequer and EU-funded job and income protection scheme to maintain employment levels during a transition period
- Marketing diversification and research aid to support firms seeking new markets and developing new products
- Access to finance from the Strategic Investment Fund to support innovation, new technology and new plant and machinery
- Temporary intervention measures under the CAP, in whatever form is necessary to protect farm incomes.
Mr Horan said: “The Brexit threat to jobs and incomes is very real, especially in the food and agriculture sector, which directly sustains almost 10% of employment in the Republic of Ireland, while sourcing almost three-quarters of its raw materials and services from domestic sources. This will have a serious impact on the fabric of rural Ireland unless strong measures are put in place now. The social partners should aim to agree a joint approach on the measures necessary to meet the challenges.”
Yesterday (Thursday) IMPACT’s Services and Enterprises division passed motions calling on the Irish Congress of Unions to ensure that worker’s rights and incomes are protected in the post-Brexit era.