The country’s largest public sector union is calling for “social wages” and wage increases to protect workers from rising inflation

Ireland’s largest public sector union is seeking a government pledge to improve ‘social wage’.

nd Fórsa said it will seek sufficient wage increases to cushion workers from rising inflation.

Fórsa – which has 80,000 members – said Ireland is now at a crossroads on social partnership, given the huge strain being placed on workers’ living standards due to rising inflation.

Fórsa Secretary-General Kevin Callinan said Ireland should resist a return to the “poor quality” social dialogue that took place before the Covid-19 pandemic, during which more intense engagements were rapidly shaping and delivering job security protocols and emergency income supports.

Mr Callinan called for increased dialogue to improve Ireland’s ‘social wages’, government spending on welfare and public services.

He also called for the national minimum wage to be raised to the higher living wage rate.

With over 80,000 members, Fórsa is the second largest union in Ireland after SIPTU.

It is the largest union in the public sector.

Wages and the escalating cost of living crisis dominated Fórsa’s first in-person conference in three years, with over 700 delegates attending the three-day event in Killarney.

The motions for today’s conference program are dominated by wage and inflation issues.

“We are at a crossroads. The cost of living crisis requires more than one round table if living standards are to be protected,” Mr Callinan warned the conference.

“With the World Bank forecasting that energy and commodity prices will remain ‘historically high’ into 2024, the value of Irish social dialogue will be measured by outcomes, not the number of meetings scheduled.”

“Workers in countries across the continent are paying more for heating, fuel and groceries. But in Germany, Denmark, Sweden and most other rich EU countries, workers don’t have to worry about the cost of childcare or an inevitable visit to the GP or A&E, fees for elderly care or even rent – because those things are free or are affordable through a social wage provided by the public service.

British officials conceded inflation could rise above 10 per cent later this year – the highest rate in almost half a century.

Mr Callinan warned that the lack of a decent social wage puts the emphasis on pay as a means of protecting living standards.

He tabled a motion from the union’s National Executive Committee (NEC) which put “restoring and improving living standards above all other issues in the current round of wage negotiations in the public sector and elsewhere”.

A motion by a Forsa branch calling for a 30 percent pay rise in the first year of a new national pay deal was withdrawn by the conference without a vote.

Mr Callinan promised that Fórsa would follow the issue of workers’ living standards with “firm determination”.

He admitted that he had not underestimated the scale of the challenge ahead of the forthcoming public sector salary negotiations.

“Workers, their families and their communities are the victims of inflation, not the cause of inflation. I have made it clear that there must be an improvement in tariff conditions this year.”

Mr Callinan acknowledged that the government had established a social dialogue unit within the Taoiseach’s ministry and that the Labor Party

The Employers’ Economic Forum – the country’s premier forum for high-level social dialogue – had been upgraded with the Taoiseach himself chairing each of the quarterly plenary sessions.

“I have long called for swift and meaningful action on the social wage, which measures how much better off you are because government is spending on welfare and public services. In Ireland it is very low compared to other modern European countries.”

“Part of the reason for this is the employer’s relatively low PRSI rate. But it is also due to the long-term failure to adequately resource public services.

Sometimes ideology gets in the way, like free-market childcare, privatized care for the elderly, or two-tier healthcare.”

“These things will not be fixed overnight. But now is the chance to start the process of transformative change. But we must begin the work with urgency and rigor and achieve early and tangible results, as Ireland’s low national wage is a direct contributor to today’s cost of living crisis.”

Mr Callinan warned the government not to underestimate sentiment within the trade union movement over the current crisis.

“Let’s be very clear – if this opportunity is spurned or squandered, then the blame for falling living standards will fall squarely on this government’s shoulders.”

Mr Callinan also called for stronger collective bargaining rights to improve wages and productivity and underpin better social and economic outcomes.

“Ireland has not kept pace with European levels of collective bargaining and over the past 40 years the balance between capital and labor has shifted enormously.

“Globalization has ensured that the share of wealth going to the elite has reached obscene levels – often beyond normal understanding. The only way to stop and reverse this is to build worker power.” The country’s largest public sector union is calling for “social wages” and wage increases to protect workers from rising inflation

Fry Electronics Team

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