President Higgins delivers keynote address, SIPTU Biannual Conference

“On the Post-Covid World of Work: The Centrality of the Trade Union Response”

SIPTU Conference, Sligo, 29th March 2022

A chairde,

May I say how delighted I was to receive an invitation to be here with you in Sligo as you gather for the SIPTU Biennial National Delegate Conference. May I begin by thanking Secretary-General Joe Cunningham for the invitation to address you all at what is an important event that is discussing the future form of economy and, within it, work. The world of work is on the cusp of great changes. Work represents the expression of our human essence – the way we work, what it means to us, and how we balance our lives together, define the society of which we are a part.

As we emerge from two brutal years of pandemic which have had such devastating consequences at so many levels – personal, societal, cultural and economic – we owe it to the victims of the pandemic, as well as those who risked their own health working in the provision of frontline and essential services, not to shirk the opportunity that now presents itself to reflect, take stock and learn the lessons that the pandemic provoked for us. We have an opportunity to return to neglected questions that pertain to the world of work, how we valued it, ranked its different forms, appreciated it, acknowledged it in payment terms.

Experiencing the pandemic has informed a heightened recognition which, I believe, now exists across society regarding issues that are inextricable related, such as work-life balance, employer flexibility, remote working and, most importantly, the need to value our essential and frontline workers who have been undervalued, and, in so many instances, underpaid, sometimes egregiously, for so long.

The pandemic has eroded the often artificial and divisive distinction between the public and private sectors. Regardless of their sector, employer, or occupational activity, SIPTU members were engaged in maintaining the essentials of the economy. Day after day, they took on risks to personal health to ensure the continued production and delivery of goods and services without which a modern society cannot function, and on which so many depended.

In doing so, SIPTU members secured the public good, kept society and economy operating at an essential, basic level while we attempted to suppress the virus’s spread. How appropriate it is then that your first motion today relates to frontline workers, whom I once again wish to acknowledge, and to whom I express gratitude on behalf of all citizens of this country.

In some respects, the world of work and labour markets around the world had already commenced a process that was yielding significant transformations when Covid-19 first emerged in early 2020. Now it is clear that the pandemic has accelerated such changes in the labour market that had already begun to take effect. The pandemic has prompted a profound reassessment of how we work, where we work, even why we work, all of which has to come out of negotiation and in the design of which there must be a lead role for trade unions and their membership.

As the pandemic recedes, we must not fall for the fallacy that there will no longer be challenges and disruptions that face society and workers in particular. These challenges had already been recognised by trade unions and the consultative bodies of which they are a part, such as the National Economic and Social Council who had outlined these quite brilliantly in NESC Report No. 149: Addressing Employment Vulnerability as Part of a Just Transition in Ireland.

There will be other disruptions, and regrettably possibly other pandemics or crises that undoubtedly will have profound consequences for our societies, our economies and the world of work. Yes, this means adapting, adjusting, prioritising, and creating resilience to manage the changes already recognised, but also we must anticipate externally sourced instability. This means embracing some new insights and capabilities that experiencing Covid-19 has revealed. Those insights, however, have to be expanded, reimagined to create the connectedness between economy, society and ecological sustainability that we now need.

Now is the time to define a new period of leadership to achieve these outcomes, not just for the trade union movement, but for all of us. It is the trade union movement that can be credibly looked to for both ambition and realism, to focus on what might be termed ‘the art of the possible’ that is embedded in the international vision that unions have historically exemplified.

By the art of the possible, I suggest this can be envisioned in terms of what we can achieve together, tapping humans’ endless capabilities within a framework of protective, inclusive labour rights that safeguard workers, particularly the most vulnerable, from the recent, often regressive, trends in the world of work – so-called innovations that merely represent advances insofar as they maximise productivity, efficiency, profitability, often at the expense of workers’ hard-won rights.

Now is the time to challenge how we think about the world of work, and technology, so that we can identify and unleash human potential and flourishing, make work and employment as satisfying and rewarding as it should be for everyone in every sector of the labour market, and protect those who, for whatever reason, are outside the basic protections and possibilities of the labour market, from falling into poverty and exclusion.

I have so often been struck by the reluctance of those who claim to be fervent, enthusiastic democrats to acknowledge the contribution of trade unions. What they have secured, what they have protected us from, how they are our bond to democracy.

Members will know that I am preparing reflections on how we experienced our lives in desperate conditions a century ago. I have been struck by how the noble – and I call it that – contribution of the trade union is not given proper place in the historiography.

Sectarianism

Now is a good time to reflect on the unique role that the trade union movement has played in quelling sectarianism, violence and intimidation on this island. As the only mass organisation that unites workers from all communities to fight for their common interests, the trade union movement must redouble its efforts, undertake that vital role of reaching out to all workers and overcoming sectarianism. It is trade unionists who can best do this. For example, there are writers who, with credibility, have suggested that if the trade unions had held out in the period 1965-68, civil rights would have been the prevailing emphasis, that trade unions were better at managing extremists than any narrow version of Nationalism or Orangeism.

At key points during the course of the ‘Troubles’, the trade union movement was able to mobilise workers in united action – with demonstrations, walk-outs and strikes – in response to sectarian threats or attacks. This is a tradition of which trade unions can always be proud, and to which I know they will always return. It must not be confined to the floors of conference halls.

Of course when one looks at what would have saved lives, be it in the War of Independence, the Clune Proposals for instance, the lives lost in the Civil War, the calls for peace, it is the trade unions, and the Labour Party led by Tom Johnson, who are most active in making that case. They too are the ones who spearheaded the visits to prisons and were the first in the field for every piece of legislation dealing with rights as to one’s sexuality or identity. It is easy to list where they gave way to conservative forces. It is, however, only fair surely to acknowledge where and when they and trade unions stood alone.

The most effective way that we can challenge sectarianism is to bring workers from both communities together in the struggle for our common interests. I know that union activists do this, are doing so in their branch and their workplace, and can respond to a rise in sectarianism which is devastating working class communities and which has been fuelled, in part, by those anti-EU sentiments that have been galvanised as a result of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Preparations that must anticipate any false divisions in the workplace must go hand in hand with a renewed discussion on how unions can, in the same way that they challenged the austerity agenda in Dublin, Stormont and Westminster, contribute now to the delivery of a new paradigm of an ethical, sustainable and inclusive society – an eco-social model that I and others have been advocating which has emerged ever stronger from the scholarly work of some of the best heterodox economists. It is now finding its way into the discussions and reports of the OECD, European Commission and other international organisations not known for espousing radical or left-wing ideas. The eco-social model represents our best hope, too, of recovering lost social cohesion.

Trade union members, I feel, are best positioned to give leadership. They are not single-issue activists and can best see how forms of consciousness must combine to achieve change. 

Humanitarian Crisis

The unfolding disaster in Ukraine brought about by the completely unjustified, unprovoked, immoral military invasion by Russia, presents great challenges to our international institutions, to the various protections in international humanitarian law. It is leading to great economic and societal upheaval, and mass migration on a scale not seen since the Second World War. These developments are already impacting on the Irish economy and society. They will have impacts on the world of work, and will fundamentally challenge us all. The leadership that the trade union movement will be called on to give will not be confined to the workplace. Theirs is a perspective that can define the society of justice and ecological responsibility.

Facing these challenges, we can draw on the type of solidarity demonstrated during the pandemic, but also on so much of the trade union history and tradition, including opening our borders, offering refuge and a safe haven for people on a scale never witnessed before. The values of solidarity, so amply demonstrated during the pandemic, will need to be re-invoked, given new expression and meaning.

In the immediate days and weeks since the invasion on Ukraine and the assault on its citizens, it is heartening to witness how so many Irish citizens, and indeed those across the globe, have united in their support for the Ukrainian people, offering food, aid and other forms of assistance to those fleeing the war.

May I suggest, as has often happened in history, be it in Ireland, Chile or Columbia, that the trade union movement has always played an important initiating role in response to humanitarian crises. It already is happening: Ukrainian trade unions have been providing food and shelter amid invasion, organised labour is helping to welcome refugees across Eastern Europe countries, and unions across Europe have been calling for greater humanitarian and emergency support from Governments.

When those who have come to join us have settled in Ireland, I suggest that Irish trade unions will be among the already incredibly welcoming people who will play a vital role in ensuring that Ukrainian refugees will enjoy all of our rights, including full access to the labour market, and other economic and social rights, such as financial supports, as provided for in the Temporary Protection Directive. This important Directive gives those seeking refuge an immediate right of access to the labour market, housing, social welfare, healthcare, education, training and other supports.

New Ways of Working

As to the new ways of working – remote working, working near home, and hybrid or blended working, are set to become one of the biggest global trends that remain with us as lockdowns ease and the normal patterns of life return across societies. Covid-19 has demonstrated the effectiveness of remote working in appropriate circumstances and provision of means of, for example, technology access, and survey after survey indicates that a blended form of remote and office-based working is the preference for the majority of workers as we emerge from the pandemic.

During the pandemic, remote working undoubtedly saved countless lives and prevented the closure of many businesses. One-in-three workers across the labour market started working from home in the last two years. Many companies – from small to multinational giants – have publicly announced a long-term shift to permanent remote working, claiming that office centricity is a thing of the past, and surveys demonstrate that 80 percent of European employers require or are considering more employees to work remotely once the pandemic is over[1].

This cultural shift places demands on employers across the private and public sectors to endeavour to accommodate these new preferences that have emerged in the expanded work environment—which includes the ecosystem of physical and virtual workplaces. This shift to home working requires, too, the management of expectations around how we collaborate, engage, and relate to each other in virtual settings.

What is at stake here is not a concession of options, but a negotiated practical agreement in how work and workers’ rights are best protected. There is a real challenge as to how the concept of collective action – central to trade union organisation – can be crafted so that the unity that has been trade unions’ strength can be maintained.

Importantly, we need to be aware of the real possibilities of a downside –isolation, burnout, low morale, workers feeling disconnected and excluded, as well as the risks of intensified work and extended working hours.

Such detrimental effects are with us already and can be seen, if neglected, as a serious erosion of workers’ fundamental rights, fair working conditions, fair remuneration, working time and work-life balance, health and safety at work, and gender equality.

We thus need better, newer, innovative and realisable protection for workers in our new digital reality to ensure the wellbeing of all workers, both when they are not working—at home with their family in the evening, on leave, or on holidays—and when they work from home. It is possible that these new paradigms of working can be turned, indeed used as an asset that benefits everyone, both workers and employers, but the trade union movement has a crucial role to play, not just in a protective sense, for example in mitigating their adverse effects on workers’ rights, but in their design and implementation. We have examples available to us.

The European Parliament’s ‘Right to Disconnect’ Resolution, and proper legal frameworks for telework, including the Code of Practice signed by the Tánaiste on behalf of the Irish Government on 1st April 2021, should be seen as essential policy instruments that can be used to protect workers’ rights and ensuring decent working conditions in the future of work post-Covid. Unions’ role in ensuring that this Code is enforced across all sectors will be vital.

The benefits of these new ways of working are potentially many and significant, far beyond the workplace. The reduced congestion and environmental emissions reductions that will arise from forgone trips travelling to and from the office are just one very significant advantage.

Then, too, are the financial savings for many, who face reduced commuting costs. We can think also of the manner in which such a model, if implemented correctly, with safeguards to protect employees, can facilitate better work-life balance, improved quality of life and human happiness, with the potential to make our world a healthier place and foster a sense of community and support for local businesses and communities. It can address the two-sided problem of rural decay and urban congestion and help implement real regional planning.

What is essential is seeing the full picture of economy, society, environment as connected. Activists must combine, see and respect each other’s priorities.

In addition to how we work, the past two years have also seen workers rethink why we work, and what we most want to do with our careers and our lives. Globally, data from the World Economic Forum demonstrates that employees are voting with their feet. In October 2021, the share of members changing roles was up a quarter compared to the pre-pandemic period in October 2019, as employees are taking their experience and skills to new roles at an accelerated pace[2].

Such survey data also reveal how workers are more likely to transition into new industries, reporting a desire for many, not just for better compensation, but for better alignment with their values. It is a fallacy to suggest, however, that it is an evolutionary inevitability for all, and age matters. Work, income, life and community are connected to the stages of the life cycle for many workers, and they have established and earned rights.

Such a move, as the World Economic Forum speaks of, can prompt positive change in the labour market, with employees more empowered to negotiate terms than in the past and to play their part in the transformation to a paradigm of a more ethical and sustainable society and economy.

Adverse Impacts

Not all of the trends that we have experienced resulting from the pandemic can be seen as positive from a labour and trade union perspective. The economic uncertainty of the pandemic has caused many workers to lose their jobs and has exposed others for the first time to non-standard, precarious work models.

While some organisations have recognised the humanitarian crisis of the pandemic and prioritised the wellbeing of employees, others have pushed employees to work in conditions that are high-risk, with precarious or little support.

A survey by the Dublin-based European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions suggests that women and young people have borne the greatest burden of the crisis. Shockingly, it found that two-thirds of 18-34-year-olds are now at risk of depression.

For women, work-life balance has suffered disproportionately throughout the pandemic, especially for women with young children[3], and the appalling statistics regarding increased domestic violence have been a shocking trend during the pandemic. Trade unions, I know, are anxious to play an important part in ensuring that wellbeing will become a central element in human resource policies so that workers’ mental and physical health is safeguarded.

We are far from being likely to see in the short term that which we seek, knowing, as we do, what is best for our shared, peaceful future. Oxfam’s latest report, Inequality Kills, indicates that the world’s richest 10 men have doubled their wealth during the pandemic, and a new billionaire was created every 26 hours[4]. On the other hand, 160 million people globally have been pushed into poverty during the same timeframe, and, shockingly, the incomes of 99 percent of humanity are worse off because of Covid-19.

Widening economic, gender, and racial inequalities—as well as the inequality that exists between countries—are tearing our world apart, ripping apart the remaining shreds of social cohesion and solidarity.

Here in Ireland, the pandemic has deepened existing inequalities. That is a fact that has been empirically demonstrated[5] – and the welfare state now faces huge challenges in dealing with the pre-pandemic structural issues that Covid-19 has exacerbated, issues related to accessing appropriate and affordable housing, healthcare, childcare and education.

The distributive effects of the pandemic response were, overall, more favourable to the already privileged and well-off. What we now need is not surely a just recovery, but a release of energy for a decent society, equal in all of its aims. Campaigning for universal basic services seems very logical, and of course it is not at the cost of the movement for basic income

Rising consumer price inflation, driven primarily by rapidly increasing energy prices, which itself drives price increases in other goods, is resulting in the cost of living soaring while wages for many remain stagnant or declining in real terms. 

The increasing prevalence of in-work poverty has resulted in the growing phenomenon of the ‘working poor’, a consequence of unstable, precarious, low-paid and temporary jobs. Entering work does not, by definition, provide a sustainable route out of poverty owing to the widespread prevalence of low-paid jobs, flexible and zero-hours’ contracts and other innovations that are increasing the numbers who are now termed ‘precariats’.

Low-paid, temporary and insecure jobs have created a new poverty trap, one made all the more difficult to escape in the aftermath of the pandemic. There is a danger that an ‘any-job-will-do’ mantra may dictate welfare and enterprise policy as countries struggle to cope with the political, economic and societal pressures that the pandemic is likely to bring in its wake. 

Archaic assumptions persist on the part of some employers about the achievement of often crude metrics based on efficiency and productivity. This fixation is based on an unchallenged set of assumptions grounded in a neoliberal economic paradigm that dates from the early 1980s and had continued for four decades gaining momentum, which has not gone but run into hiding in the thickets of bad capital and destructive economics.

Chief among this paradigm’s assumptions is the notion that an organisation can only thrive if it strives to achieve the maximisation of productivity and efficiency at any cost, regardless of social or human welfare impacts. I believe there is now a recognition that we need to move away from this paradigm and embrace a transition from designing for efficiency to designing for resilience and ethical sustainability in a post-pandemic world.

Then, too, is the trend of rapidly increasing digitalisation of the global economy, galvanised by the pandemic, and the need for safeguards to protect those who will be left behind or exploited by such a trend.

We see the adverse impacts of digitalisation manifesting across society, perhaps most acutely in the banking and financial services sector where branches continue to close, staff are redeployed to back office services or made redundant, and the customer experience is ever-diminished, all of this rationalised in the name of efficiency, flexibility, productivity.

Digitalisation can yield positive, shared results. It need not be wholly negative if offered within a social-economic model, ensuring that workers are covered by employment law and collective agreements.

The pandemic has the potential to usher in a new era for workers’ rights. May I suggest that trade unions are presented now with an opportunity to ensure that a major change is brought to fruition with regard to workers’ rights in Ireland.

This could include advancing crucial policy agendas, such as a move to achieving support for universal basic services and an appropriate living wage, the need for access to an occupational pension, the right to disconnect from work, the right to seek remote working arrangements, new legislation for statutory sick pay arrangements, and, perhaps most importantly, a new approach to collective bargaining and industrial relations giving greater power to trade unions which is the subject of several motions of your conference

May I suggest, too, that now is a good time for an all-out effort to be made among unions, such as SIPTU, to drive up membership among those workers in sectors that are traditionally less well represented by union membership, such as the technology and pharmaceutical sectors, as well as those in the so-called ‘gig economy’ who have been effectively ignored.

Climate Change and Just Transition

Climate change remains the biggest existential crisis we face as a society. Yet, Covid-19, and now the Ukrainian defence against invasion, with all its consequences, has pushed climate change down the policy agenda. While there was some progress at COP26, and the green skills we need to transition our economy are growing, it is clear that the pace we need in order to achieve the low-carbon transition is far too slow. The latest IPCC reports make for grim reading and constitute a dire warning about the consequences of inadequate action.

The window of opportunity to act on climate change is closing worryingly fast: climate change is “widespread, rapid, and intensifying” and “major climate changes are now inevitable and irreversible”[6]. Over 40 percent of the world’s population is already being significantly impacted by climate change, with the poorest being impacted most adversely[7].

A mindset shift is thus needed across all of society, not only from governments to employers, but to citizens who are asked to set aside their indifference, and may I suggest that unions can be at the vanguard in helping to deliver this shift now urgently needed if we are to avoid runaway and catastrophic climate change.

Every worker and employer has a role to play in the transition to an eco-social paradigm of ecological sustainability and inclusive and ethical society. This does not mean the mere application of a green lens to specific aspects of our jobs and lifestyles.

Rather, it requires a new way of existence, in harmony with nature, resonating with the world, recognising the importance of resiliency, the limits of the world’s natural resources, as well as acknowledging the role that unrestrained greed has played in creating the climate crisis.

The suggested new paradigm envisages a more equal and moral society, one in which the State is seen as a provider of quality universal services for its citizens, services that are seen as an investment in society rather than a burden, services that provide decent jobs for workers. Such a model has gained traction, achieving a consensus in many parliaments.

An eco-social paradigm encompasses, too, the need for a just transition for those impacted by the closure of unsustainable carbon-intensive electricity production, for example, who must be offered re-skilling opportunities to enable them to find suitable jobs in other areas, such as the green economy, or upskilling opportunities that can achieve sustainable incomes in other parts of society.

At the European Union level, the European Green Deal is a crucial strategic intervention aiming to transform the EU into a resource-efficient economy, ensuring no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, economic growth decoupled from resource use, and a just transition in which no person and no place is left behind. A model for such a just transition has been made available to us by Ireland’s National Economic and Social Council, whose 2020 Report, as I have already suggested, provides a framework within which the transition to a new political economy may be a just transition[8].

The importance of achieving a just transition – based on the principles of equality, participation, and protection of the marginalised – is ever more relevant because of the Covid-19 crisis, its aftermath and how we design our recovery, and is aligned with our obligations under the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda.

The trillion-euro European Green Deal has the potential to be a lifeline out of the pandemic, may assist in bringing to fruition a paradigm shift away from the Anthropocene to a new era that brings about an eco-social industrial revolution. However, such a strategic intervention requires that education, training and skills development be placed at its core, together with improved co-operation between member states.

We also need, it has been suggested by a diversity of scholarly and spiritual thinkers and writers, a new social contract between citizen and state. Minouche Shafik, in her recent book, What We Owe Each Other, presents a compelling case that a more generous and inclusive society would also share risks more collectively[9].

Acknowledging Amartya Sen’s Capabilities Approach, she suggests that such a society would broaden opportunities, and ask citizens to contribute for as long as they can and wish to, so that everyone can fulfil their potential. Shafik identifies the key elements of a more generous social contract, one founded on solidity, solidarity and harmony, one that recognises our interdependencies, supports and invests more in each other, to build a more inclusive, cohesive society together.

Conclusion

How we emerge from this pandemic will be vitally important to the future of workers’ rights. Let us all commit to play our part in the creation of a society that removes the obstacles standing between so many of our people and their full participation. Let us commit to valuing those heroic workers who have risked their lives and their security to support us. Let us keep defending their rights as the founders of the trade union movement did more than a century ago.

There never was a more appropriate, more exciting time to be a part of the trade union movement for a future of equality, justice and sustainability, one that will carry the imprint of the trade union’s emancipatory imprint.

I wish your conference every success.

Míle buíochas is beir beannacht.                                     

 

[1] See European Foundation (2021). ‘ Workers want to telework but long working hours, isolation and inadequate equipment must be tackled’ – available here: https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/publications/article/2021/workers-want-to-telework-but-long-working-hours-isolation-and-inadequate-equipment-must-be-tackled

[3] European Foundation (2021). Op. cit.

[4] Nabil Ahmed, Anna Marriott, Nafkote Dabi, Megan Lowthers, Max Lawson, Leah Mugehera (2022). ‘Inequality kills: The unparalleled action needed to combat unprecedented inequality in the wake of COVID-19’. Oxfam International.

[5] See, for example, ‘Pandemic exposes income inequalities in Irish society’ by Deirdre Curran, Lucy-Ann Buckley, Kate Kenny, Gary Goggins, and Áine Ní Léime (2021). Work Organisation & Society Cluster of the Whitaker Institute at NUI Galway – available here:

https://impact.nuigalway.ie/news/pandemic-exposes-income-inequalities-in-irish-society/

[6] IPCC (2021). ‘Sixth Assessment Report’, United Nations: Geneva.

[7] IPCC (2022). IPCC Working Group II Report, ‘Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’, United Nations: Geneva

[8] NESC (2020). ‘Addressing Employment Vulnerability as Part of a Just Transition in Ireland’, March 2020, Report No. 149, NESC: Dublin.

[9] Shafik, Minouche (2021). What We Owe Each Other: A New Social Contract, Penguin: London.

SIPTU warns Fine Gael that pension age rise will be signing its ‘political death warrant’

SIPTU Deputy General Secretary, Ethel Buckley, has warned the Fine Geal party that it will be signing its “political death warrant” if it attempts to press ahead with raising the age of entitlement to the state pension to 67 years.

In her address on the opening day of the SIPTU Biennial Delegate Conference in the Clayton Hotel in Sligo, Buckley said: “Let us be crystal clear at this conference here today and say to Minister Heather Humphreys: ‘Minister, our Union is putting you and your party on notice. If you cast aside all the evidence, if you ignore all the opposition, if you scorn the public outcry and increase the pension age to 67, you will be signing your party’s political death warrant and SIPTU members will make sure of that.” 

Highlighting the role of SIPTU members in leading the Stop67 Campaign against the proposed raising of the state pension age to 67 in January 2021, she said, “They were forced to repeal the pension age increase because you told them they had to. We showed them that they would be wise not to ignore our union and our strength. Because our union has power, our union has votes, and our union can change the outcome of elections.”  

Buckley said that SIPTU members welcomed the announcement on International Women’s Day (8th March) that the Government will shortly publish regulations giving effect to legislation requiring companies to publish the gap in earnings between their male and female workers.   

She said: “If they do not specifically provide a role for worker representatives in agreeing action plans with employers that will shrink the gender pay gap, then we say that the legislation is toothless.

“Whatever about there being a glass ceiling, there’s certainly a concrete floor the keeps women trapped in low-paid and precarious jobs. Ireland’s women cannot continue to have an 11% gap in earnings when compared to men.”

More than 350 delegates are attending the SIPTU Biennial Delegate Conference in the Clayton Hotel in Sligo from Monday (28th March) until Thursday (31stMarch) to debate and discuss motions on improving the lives of workers in Ireland.

School secretaries win historic new pay structure

School secretaries have today (Wednesday) voted overwhelmingly to accept an historic new package of pay and working conditions, which places them all on public service salary rates after a decades-long campaign for pay equity.

The deal, negotiated by Fórsa, significantly improves incomes and paid leave arrangements for low-paid secretaries, who the union says have been overlooked and undervalued for years.

The new agreement will see all school secretaries transfer to a new pay-scale aligned with the public service clerical officer scale. Prior to today, most of them were employed directly by schools, with most earning no more than the minimum wage.

Fórsa’s school secretaries voted to accept the agreement by a wide margin, with 95% voting in favour and 5% voting against on a 73% turnout.

From now on, their incomes will increase in line with public sector pay awards.

 

From now on, their incomes will increase in line with public sector pay awards. Assimilation to the new pay scale will be backdated to September 2021, and all school secretaries will be on the Department of Education payroll system with standardised pay arrangements across all schools.

For the first time, the agreement will also see salaries averaged over 52 weeks, including the cash value of job seekers benefit, which means secretaries will no longer have to sign on for unemployment benefits during school holidays.

The deal also enshrines 22 days paid leave a year, as well as payment for ten public holidays. This replaces ad-hoc arrangements, which left many school secretaries with no paid holidays.

The assimilation arrangements in the agreement will place secretaries with ten years’ service on an hourly rate of €13, which represents a 19.5% pay increase. Secretaries with 20 years’ service will see increases of 24.5%.

This historic agreement is a significant step forward for school secretaries who have been overlooked and undervalued for so many years.

 

Fórsa’s Head of Education, Andy Pike, said the deal would see many staff get a permanent contract of employment for the first time ever.

“This historic agreement is a significant step forward for school secretaries who have been overlooked and undervalued for so many years. Crucially the agreement secures pay parity with the public service, and ensures that they will no longer have to sign on when schools are closed.

“The provision of paid leave will benefit many members who have never received any paid holiday entitlement. And a standard national contract will enable Fórsa to seek improved conditions in the years ahead,” he said.

There was some disappointment that the agreement does not address the issue of pension provision for school secretaries. Andy said the union would continue to seek fair pension provision for school secretaries.

He said discussions on a similar outcome for school caretakers would now get underway.

Workers in Six Counties go on Strike

Belfast phone app delivery drivers are staging a walkout on Wednesday over pay and conditions.

Staff working for high profile firms Just Eat, Deliveroo and Uber Eats will down tools for six hours amid claims they are seeing their income fall thanks to changes in pay structures and rising fuel costs.

The industrial action is being organised by the App Drivers and Couriers Union, or ADCU, and comes amid a cost of living crisis affecting workers across countless sectors.

Delivery workers will stage a six-hour work stoppage on Wednesday between 11am and 5pm with a public protest to be held on Boucher Road. The workers are demanding a minimum income guarantee of at least £10 per hour plus operating costs.

The ADCU says workers they represent can earn as little as £100 for a 12 hour shift with fuel and vehicle maintenance to come out of that. As the workers are what the industry calls ‘self employed independent contractors’, they only get paid when they work and do not get sick or holiday pay.

On Strike placard sits in garbage pail post strike. Narrow depth with soft background. Shot in sun setting light.

 

 

No to War- Two wars in Europe – One Conclusion

A very informative statement from the Worlwide Federation of Trade Unions

In 1999, at the heart of Europe, NATO, the USA, the EU, and their allies bombed Yugoslavia. Today, in 2022, Russia attacked Ukraine in an unfair and destructive war.  Nevertheless, where are hidden all those who in 1991 were trying to persuade all the peoples that the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the overthrows in the countries of Eastern Europe were taking place in favor of international security and global peace?

The truth was different when there was the Soviet Union, there was a “counterbalance”, there was a powerful power truly in favor of peace and the peoples’ friendship.  After the overthrows, the international balance of power drastically changed.  NATO, USA, EU waged wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Armenia, etc. The real conclusion is one and only one.  The overthrow of Socialism in Eastern European countries caused only afflictions.

The World Federation of Trade Unions, demands the end of the war in Ukraine now too.  The Russian attack should stop now, the NATO should be dissolved now and a substantial dialogue must be held.

We assure the WFTU affiliated trade unions in eastern Ukraine that we support the efforts to ensure their right to decide alone for their present and their future. The WFTU was and remains against the fascist practices of the Ukraine government which is a puppet of the USA and NATO. The people of Russia, Ukraine, and all countries should make daily efforts to develop peace through relations of friendship and solidarity.  Our common struggle against imperialist contradictions must and can stop the imperialist wars.

Long Live Socialism . Long Live Cuba.

A welcome article from the President of Cuba. My thanks to Monthly Review.

 

It is my responsibility to close the Ninth Legislature’s Seventh Ordinary Period of Sessions and, at the same time, I come before you, the highest representation of our people, to comply with a legal mandate: to render accounts and report on my administration as president of the republic. I will do so by sharing some assessments of the situation we have faced in this period, the issues on which we have focused our work, and the issues toward which we must direct our principal efforts. I do so on a day of special significance for all Cubans, the day on which the always loyal Camilo Cienfuegos disappeared, a symbol of Cuban citizenship, of courage, an eternal hero of Cuban youth, and, like them, joyful and profound.

By speaking these words publicly, I will surely be able to count not only on your opinions, but also on those of our people. We will rely on them to improve our work, with the responsibility that comes with being a public servant.

First, I must emphasize the very complex world context, rocked by multiple crises created by the unjust global order, which have worsened because of two long, hard years of pandemic. Less than a week ago, deaths due to COVID-19 worldwide numbered around 5 million and the number of infected persons exceeded 243,700,000. The World Health Organization estimates that, if we consider the level of mortality directly or indirectly linked to the new coronavirus, the pandemic’s toll could be two to three times higher than official records indicate; but the real impact on all aspects of life on a planetary level is yet to be known. What no one doubts is its high cost for the world economy, already impacted by the prolonged prevalence of unsustainable consumption patterns, which have increasingly narrowed the zones of luxury and comfort while the world of the excluded dramatically expands.

Despite Cuba’s advantages—due to its free, universal public health system and its capacity for rapid scientific development, which put us at the forefront in research and vaccine production globally—we were unable to escape the pandemic’s blows.

As has been addressed in this assembly’s sessions, since 2019, the economy has functioned under exceptional conditions. The combined effects of the tightening of the blockade and the escalation of the pandemic led the country to lose more than $3 billion in revenue during this period. In addition, significant non-budgeted expenditures were made to confront COVID-19, to protect workers and the population in general. All this has limited our capacity to assume indispensable expenditures to sustain state supplies, fundamentally of food and medicines, as well as the resources needed to maintain the national electric system. This difficult situation provokes dissatisfaction and unease within the population. To give you an idea: some $300 million were needed just for health services and disposable supplies to treat COVID-19 patients, while the operation and maintenance of the national electric system requires at least $250 million a year.

The failure to complete regular maintenance in a timely fashion and our inability to acquire the necessary resources to guarantee electric service caused the aggravating power outages that we have experienced since June 21, 2021. Although the limitations have not disappeared, fuel for the generation of electricity is available, and a certain level of financing was secured (under very difficult conditions), which will allow the recovery of 608 megawatts of power generation capacity before the end of 2021, thus gradually improving service across the country.

In this context, conditions that favor inflation have emerged due to the existence of a demand that is much higher than supply, making it the principal priority of the government’s work. One solution would be to increase supply through greater participation by national producers in our domestic market.

Thanks to the sustained control of COVID-19, a gradual process of economic and social recovery has begun, contributed to by measures approved for greater autonomy for socialist state enterprises and the improvement and diversification of economic actors.

The plan of the economy and state budget for 2022, which we will evaluate next December, will be directed at projecting the recovery of fundamental levels of activity, achieving greater autonomy in administrative management at the territorial level, prioritizing compensatory measures to assist the most vulnerable, and consolidating the implementation of the Tarea Ordenamiento [economic reforms process], among other priorities.

Thanks to our system, to the integration of all forces in pursuit of an objective—that is, thanks to unity around the party—Cuba found immediate answers to the unforeseen pandemic and, at the same time, the reprehensible tightening of the blockade. It is necessary to point again to the contemptible opportunism of our adversary. Precisely during the months when the pandemic peaked in our country, power outages became frequent and the supply of goods and services declined significantly, creating a favorable climate for exasperation and discontent. The historical enemy of the Cuban nation, the United States, understood the importance of the moment and launched attacks on our economy with even more viciousness. In direct contradiction to president Joe Biden’s recent declarations before the United Nations General Assembly supporting multilateralism and cooperation in the struggle against the pandemic at a global level, the blockade on Cuba was tightened, new sanctions were imposed, and a new destabilization plan was set in motion, following their “soft coup” manual to the letter.

We have never sat back waiting for change in a policy that for over sixty-two years has shifted only to tighten the siege. The enemy’s formula is based on the idea that our great material difficulties will weaken the resistance of the people and finally bring us to our knees. Against a socialist project like ours, violent or military actions, invasion, occupation are never ruled out; but the first bet is on demoralization, on surrender. This is why the message of hatred of communism, the antisocialist emphasis, the persecution of every possible economic solution—in short, the blockade—continue, no matter how much they damage, how much they erode the faith of a people in its own strengths.

However implausible and immoral it may seem, this is the imperialist plan for Cuba. The hypocritical cover-ups and deceptions about an alleged revision of the policy, which the current government repudiated during the electoral campaign that brought Biden to power, are no longer believable. Fraudulent justifications touting the supposed intention to support the Cuban people, and only deny the government any help, are no longer valid.

The evidence is there for all to see that the objective has been, from the beginning, to provoke economic hardship, punish the people, erode their standard of living, restrict their sources of income, limit consumption, and undermine social services on which much of their well-being, and the meeting of basic needs, depends. The goal is to condemn the Cuban population to the role of hostage in a genocidal policy with hegemonic designs.

This is why Washington is so annoyed by Cuba’s success in confronting the pandemic, in particular the outstanding results of our vaccination program, developed with ingenuity, effort, and our own resources. It explains the determination to disparage our public health system and deny this extraordinary achievement of Cuba, which exposes the deceitful portrayal they want to impose on our reality. Every vaccine created and administered, every immunized compatriot, every infection avoided, and every life saved are victories for the national cause and defeats of the imperialist aggression against our country. It may seem incredible to describe it this way, but there is no other way to describe the shameless use of a pandemic, with cold political calculation, against an entire people.

As I recently pointed out during the closing of the last plenum of the Communist Party of Cuba’s Central Committee, in the current climate of our bilateral relations with the United States, that country’s embassy is playing an increasingly active role in political subversion efforts. In contrast, I can categorically state that our embassy in Washington has never conducted any activity meant to subvert the established order in the United States, or undermine its political, legal, or constitutional foundation. Our diplomatic mission in that country is limited to an intense effort to favor bilateral relations, to lift the economic blockade, and to counteract slander campaigns against Cuba and the revolution.

The record of our diplomatic representations in the United States has always been absolutely spotless, despite our genuine concerns and legitimate opinions on the unjust nature of the U.S. political system and the political, economic, and legal abuses committed there on a daily basis. The U.S. government shamelessly uses the privileges enjoyed by its embassy in our country. U.S. diplomatic officials frequently meet with counterrevolutionary leaders, providing them guidance, encouragement, logistical support, and direct and indirect financing. On their communication platforms, including digital networks, they issue offensive statements on a daily basis that constitute open interference in the internal affairs of our country.

It is only fair to ask what the U.S. government’s response would be if any embassy accredited in Washington engaged in instigating, guiding, motivating, and financing any of the multiple extremist groups whose illegal activities threaten the stability, life, and public order of that country. It would be good to know how the U.S. government would respond to an embassy accredited in its territory that publicly engages in promoting civil disobedience, political demonstrations, and massive marches against the established legal order.

Recent provocations have made clear that a concerted operation against Cuba, based in the United States, is underway, involving millions of dollars directed toward generating an image of Cuba as a failed state, where citizens’ rights are trampled. The plan also includes efforts to recruit other countries to join the economic aggression, and to pressure the United States itself to take even more punitive action on a larger scale.

The truth always prevails, no matter how powerful the tools are today to hide or distort it. Lies may spread as fast as the COVID-19 virus and have the power to confuse and infect many, but they will not be able to break the will of this heroic people, tested so many times. Despite the plans of imperialism, we are defeating the pandemic, as we have defeated and will defeat their aggressive plans, no matter how vicious the campaigns or the slanders. The blockade is and will continue to be, in the foreseeable future, a fundamental obstacle to our strategies and potential for economic growth and development, but it is not an insurmountable impediment. We will continue to struggle against it tirelessly, with the support of the international community.

Our development and the people’s well-being necessarily depends on the effort we make and the intelligence we bring to the task, aware that the cruel U.S. war will persist as long as that country’s desire to control Cuba’s destiny persists. The blockade is not only meant to punish us for our resistance. It is an everyday part of the effort to prevent socialism from being associated with growth, progress, or prosperity. No! Socialism is not to blame for our problems. Only socialism can explain the fact that we have survived this ferocious, genocidal siege, without renouncing development. As I expressed a few days ago at the Central Committee plenum, a worthy response to this undeserved punishment depends on us alone. Our originality must be as great as the malice of those attempting to subjugate us. The revolution has been, and will always be, distinguished by the capacity of our people to resist and create.

Our economic and social strategy for boosting the economy and confronting the global crisis caused by COVID-19 was the first response. It adjusted the country’s projections given the new situation without renouncing our development program through 2030. It is a revolutionary response with the flexibility and capacity to adapt to the complexity of absolutely new and unpredictable situations, such as the pandemic itself. It is a response based on our strengths and takes into consideration existing limitations.

Promoting the development of a government management system based on science and innovation, we created the National Innovation Council, to provide specialized advice that will have an impact on decision-making and our most pressing problems. Among the actions taken to complement the economic and social strategy, more than sixty measures have been approved to stimulate the production and distribution of food, along with others meant to increase the efficiency of state enterprises, encourage the activity of new economic actors (the so-called mipymes [small and medium businesses]), remove obstacles in processes, and create production chains.

At the same time, during a year of so many limitations, our state has undertaken an intense international effort of dialogue, exchange, and cooperation with other nations and their leaders, participating in summits—virtually and, to a lesser extent, face to face—which have allowed us to maintain solid relationships with the international community and, in particular, with friendly nations. As an expression of Cuba’s unchanging commitment to solidarity, recognized with gratitude throughout the world, some fifty-seven medical brigades from the Henry Reeve contingent have directly confronted COVID-19 in forty nations.

I have allowed myself to insist on external factors that aim to weaken us because, under the fireworks of nonconventional warfare and the deafening racket that professional haters produce on the Internet, we could fall into the error of not recognizing our own strengths, of not appreciating our indisputable progress during these last two years plagued by challenges and uncertainty worldwide. Let us begin with the legislative work, which should contribute much to the country’s institutionality.

During this Period of Sessions, complying with the agreed schedule, we have approved four important laws that represent a transcendental reform in the country’s judicial and procedural order. It is only fair to recognize the effort made under the conditions imposed by the pandemic. These norms concretize the content of Cuba’s Constitution and reinforce the rights of citizens, in harmony with society as a whole. They are the result of a broad, creative, and participative process, to which directors and specialists of the courts, the Attorney General’s office, collective legal teams, and university professors contributed, in addition to a segment of our people.

We must continue to perfect this practice in the drafting of legislation, to ensure that each law we approve is the result of the contributions of all those linked to the issue at hand and, when appropriate, consulted with the people through various means. The normative provisions approved place the country at the forefront of the most advanced and modern legislation in this field, and reflect a spirit of renewal, reaffirming access to justice for all, expanding due process, and thus helping to concretize the concept of the socialist state of law and social justice, recognized in Article 1 of the Magna Carta.

The Law of Courts strengthens judicial functioning in the country, reinforcing the independence of the judiciary and the role of judges in society, adjusting its structure and operations to current requirements. It recognizes essential principles in judicial matters, including the supremacy of the Constitution, impartiality, equality, free access to justice, and popular participation. The criminal process, in accordance with the law, is endowed with greater guarantees for all those involved. Notable elements include the strengthening of rights and guarantees recognized in the Constitution and international treaties, the recognition of victims and injured parties as procedural subjects, anticipated forms of solution in processes, treatment of persons between 16 and 18 years of age who are charged and prosecuted. Also significant are provisions guaranteeing legal assistance from the beginning of any process, along with court control of the precautionary measure of pretrial detention at any stage of the process, issues raised during the popular consultation of the Constitution’s text.

The Administrative Process Law, in addition to making this matter independent for the first time in procedural norms, will guarantee citizens the possibility of filing claims in court if they believe their rights have been violated by the public administration. Finally, the Code of Processes standardizes procedures for civil, commercial, family, labor, and social security matters. It reinforces the protection of people in vulnerable situations and establishes measures to enforce judicial decisions, among other relevant issues.

The four laws approved pose a challenge for those responsible for the justice system, given the need for training and guaranteeing their adequate implementation to safeguard prompt and effective justice. We reiterate the will to continue meeting the legislative timeline approved by this parliament and, with it, developing the contents of our socialist Constitution.

The Eighth Party Congress opened valuable debates and offered fundamental directives that serve as references and the driving force in what we do. Addressed during the event were the most challenging problems of our reality: the gaps, failures in communication, need to promote dialogue, participation and popular control, life in our neighborhoods, work of mass and social organizations, attention to vulnerable sectors of the population, knowledge of the problems and the interests of our youth, bureaucratization of community work, but, above all, the effects of the blockade on the daily lives of all Cubans and the high level of political sensitivity demanded by the implementation of the Tarea Ordenamiento. The reform process was carried out in difficult circumstances, as it was considered a non-postponable step in increasing enterprise efficiency, but it had an undesired impact on the lives of citizens, which today is expressed, above all, in severe inflation.

Deputy prime minister Alejandro Gil explained the causes and possible solutions to this problem at length in his report, so I will not attempt to do the same, except to say that we are aware of its severity and it is the government’s priority to address it and support vulnerable people. Several elements of its initial design have been rectified, taking into account the people’s opinions. We are not going to lie and say that this will be solved with the stroke of a pen; I can only say that the revolution will never do anything against the interests and demands of the people. And I am personally confident that we will meet this challenge, just as we have overcome other seemingly insurmountable challenges.

The guidelines updated at the Eighth Party Congress and what pertains to this five-year period in the National Economic and Social Development Plan through 2030 constitute the foundations of the strategy to boost the economy, which we have decided will be the responsibility of the Ministry of Economy and Planning, through its macroeconomic and other programs.

For ten years now, the Permanent Commission for the Implementation and Development of Policy Guidelines has worked on updating the economic and social model of socialist development, but we decided that it is time to deactivate the Commission and transfer its main functions to the Ministry of Economy and Planning. Today we are in a better position to improve government work in close alliance with people’s power bodies, which have much untapped potential. I can imagine no better place than this to reflect on what we expect from our people’s power. People’s power—genuine and innovative people’s power, and thus also questioned and attacked by those who do not recognize it or fear its example—constitutes the foundation and essence of the Cuban political system. To strengthen it is to empower the initiative and direct action of our people in the consolidation of socialism.

This very session of the assembly has given us good reasons to propose a critical and reflective discussion of participation and popular control, and its various forms, mechanisms, and procedures. But I also point out the importance of conducting these analyses in all social environments, all state institutions and bodies at all levels, to encourage creative and responsible action in the revolutionary socialist process.

If the conversations with representatives of diverse organizations and social groups—that is, meetings with sectors and tours of the provinces and neighborhoods—have taught us anything, it is the need to assume new styles of work that better reflect the country’s social heterogeneity, to adequately channel the concerns and contributions of the citizenry, and to respond to every demand received in a timely, pertinent, and well-founded manner within the established time frame and procedure. It is imperative to take advantage of the people’s knowledge, strengths, and initiatives, not in a formal way, but organically, respectfully, aware that in this practice the principle of co-responsibility is accentuated along the path to the greatest possible social justice. When we speak of innovation as one of the pillars of government management, we are also thinking of our people’s power. Socialist democracy demands doing, innovating, changing, and permanently transforming the forms of democratic participation.

The 2019 Constitution and the laws approved by the current legislature of the National Assembly of People’s Power provide the legal foundations to support our actions, which we will continue to develop along with the legal system: actions that stimulate, promote, and concretize popular participation have defensive and constructive importance for socialism. Immobility and formalism in government bodies at the local level are as harmful as paternalism, such as in the delivery of goods and resources without considering the importance of social participation.

Participation is the essence and best defense of our socialism. The opposite only serves the enemies of the revolution and their objective of returning to capitalism in Cuba. Freedom of discussion, the exercise of criticism and self-criticism, is vital to continue advancing, to create and love. We must listen, dialogue, attend to the proposals of our people. We must conduct popular consultations on matters of local and national interest, promote participatory budgets to decide, among us all, where and how best to spend public funds, with emphasis on the locality, the neighborhood, the municipality. We reaffirm here the will of the party, the state, and Cuban society to respect, promote, and guarantee constitutional rights, a commitment that was expressed during the process of constitutional reform—that had as its culmination the binding referendum to approve the 2019 Constitution—and in all the actions that are taken on a daily basis to ensure the protection of rights.

These hard pandemic months provide the best evidence of how the state—supported by scientists, health personnel, educators, workers, campesinos, soldiers, youth, and students—has worked hard to reduce infections and fatalities, in communities and neighborhoods, in workplaces, in mass political and social organizations. Citizen participation saves lives! The protagonists of this process are those who construct our sacred unity, those who develop the nation’s capacity for resilience, the guardians of dignity: our people. As we advance in mass vaccination, paying special attention to children and adolescents, we demonstrate our commitment to the comprehensive protection of the rights of the new generation in Cuba. That such efforts are everyday events in no way makes them less extraordinary.

We are committed to recognizing and advancing the rights of families, developing the principles of family plurality, diversity, equality, and non-discrimination. As a result of this intention, we now have a preliminary draft of the Families Code—a solid, rigorous document based on human dignity as the supreme value that sustains the recognition and exercise of duties and rights. We are convinced that, through processes of specialized consultation, popular consultation, and debates in the National Assembly of People’s Power, we will reach the legislative referendum with a draft Families Code that will place Cuba among the most advanced countries in the world on the question. These are just some examples among many, including the National Program for the Advancement of Women, the National Program Against Racism and Racial Discrimination, and the Decree Law on Working Women and Maternity, among others, which show that the revolution respects, promotes, and guarantees equality and democracy.

This assembly recently approved an important declaration denouncing the interference of the U.S. government in our internal affairs and its unacceptable role as instigator and facilitator of current provocations. In this same hall, where the Constitution of 2019 was discussed at length until its approval, I cannot fail to refer to both the subtle and flagrant attempts with which adversaries of the revolution, many of whom attacked the process that led to its approval, today seek to use the rights it guarantees to destroy the work that the Constitution defends and protects. According to Article 56 of the Magna Carta: “The rights of assembly, demonstration, and association, for lawful and peaceful purposes, are recognized by the state as long as they are exercised with respect for public order and compliance with precepts established by law.” The exercise of rights implies the fulfillment of duties, among them, respect for the order established in the Constitution, which is an expression of the principle of popular sovereignty. The law of laws cannot be interpreted at one’s convenience, much less in the interest of those who are the first to disrespect it. The Constitution, in Article 7, stipulates it “is the supreme law of the state. All are obliged to comply with it. The provisions and acts of state bodies, their directors, officials, and employees, as well as those of organizations, entities, and individuals are to abide by its provisions.” Our Constitution consecrates the principles of independence and sovereignty of peoples, recognizes the right to self-determination expressed in the freedom to choose our own political, economic, social, and cultural system, condemns direct or indirect intervention in the internal or external affairs of any state, including armed aggression, any form of economic or political coercion, unilateral blockades in violation of international law, and any other type of interference or threat to the integrity of states.

Rights are not unlimited. The limits are also stipulated in the Constitution, and include the rights of others, collective security, general welfare, respect for public order, the Constitution, and laws. A demonstration ceases to be peaceful at the moment when participants seek to alter the normality of community life, social peace, express the intention to subvert the constitutional order and position themselves as the opposition to socialism, and, even more so, when all this is done following a script serving the political interests of a foreign government that has maintained an economic war against our country for six decades.

I would like to particularly express our gratitude to the scientific community, called on to provide us with the tools that only science can and should contribute to economic and social processes in this era. Thanks to Fidel’s visionary policy of promoting science, and the continuity Raúl provided to that work, thanks to the talent, dedication, and commitment with which several generations of Cuban researchers have been trained, our government has been able to face the terrible threat of a pandemic like no other in Latin America or the third world. When we review these years in the not-too-distant future, we will be obliged to speak first of all of the health professionals, the creative scientists, and academics who came out of their classrooms to share knowledge.

And we will also talk about our armed institutions, the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior, which made a decisive contribution in supporting efforts to confront the situation and took on the hazardous mission of producing, transporting, and delivering oxygen to hospitals in the country’s most critical hours. I must also acknowledge the Revolutionary Armed Forces enterprise system for its indispensable contribution to the nation’s economy, which has provided us with fundamental resources during emergencies.

Only an organized country with a leadership united in a common purpose—the safeguarding of the nation—can set the highest goals in the most difficult hours. Knowing that our nation, blockaded and without financial resources, could not aspire to protect its population from the threat of the pandemic, we asked our scientific community for a sovereign solution to confront the spread of the disease.

Today, we are the first country in Latin America with three vaccines and two vaccine candidates under development, and the first in the world to begin vaccinating children between 2 and 18 years of age. Along the way we experienced hard blows: peaks in new infections, full hospitals, crises in the availability of beds and oxygen, painful deaths, increased tension with breakdowns at electric plants, limited availability of medications and food. The anti-Cuban mob, calculating that our end was near, went for our throats with demands for a humanitarian intervention and even military invasion. They did not even bother to look at the history of how nations “saved” by Yankee or North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops have ended up in this century. But the Cuban people do know this history, they are informed, and the good people of the world know it too. With this consciousness, solidarity donations were organized, and they continue to arrive in Cuba.

In the last few weeks, the number of new infections and deaths has dropped significantly. Students are getting ready to go back to school and the country is preparing to open borders to oxygenate the economy. We feel like celebrating for our children, doctors, scientists, our vaccines, and our people; for Fidel, who returned again and again to his legitimate faith in human beings to save lives and illuminate the horizon. There is more than one reason that our celebration should be responsible and restrained. In many parts of the world, new outbreaks of the pandemic are occurring amid the crisis caused by the economic slowdown. This is the world we live in and it is up to us to assume the risk. Let us make this success last.

On November 15, 2021, Cuba will reopen its borders, students will return to school; Havana, the capital of dignity, will await its 502nd anniversary, to celebrate as it has not been able to do in the last two years. National life will resume its course, with the greatest joy, but alert. The peace and harmony that distinguish life in our streets will continue to reign. No one is going to spoil our party! We are now vaccinated against COVID-19, and we have always been vaccinated against fear! We have a homeland, and we defend life! And we remain true to “¡Patria o Muerte!” We will win!

 

 

Safe workplaces and remote working a priority – ICTU

Speaking after the meeting of the Covid-19 Stakeholder Forum, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions general secretary Patricia King said: “Following the lifting of the majority of public health restrictions on Friday, the Forum met today to discuss a number of issues to ensure people can be confident that workplaces are safe for staff and the public. 

The Forum noted that notwithstanding the changes to public health advice the pandemic is not over. 
It was agreed that the Work Safely Protocol will now be updated to provide ‘good guidance’ to employers and workers to maintain safe workplaces.
The Health and Safety Authority will continue to operate its contact centre where advice will be available on all matters relating to the operation of the Protocol.
The Forum agreed that during the phased transition back to the workplace genuine consultation and engagement between employers and workers/representatives on all aspects of the return is essential.” 

Ms King added: “Congress notes the imminent publication of legislation to give workers new rights relating to requests to work remotely. It is expected that the Heads of Bill will be put for Cabinet consideration tomorrow. 
“With the sudden ending of the work from home guidance and the time-lag in workers’ remote working rights coming into force, Congress stressed the importance of employers recognising there will be practical reasons and, for some workers, health grounds why a speedy return to the office is not always going to be possible and that reasonable accommodations must be made.”
 

 

Abolish the 1990 Industrial Relations Act: Do something Now. What you can do!

What can YOU do to pressurise union leadership to start the campaign for the restoration of workers rights taken away by the 1990 Industrial Relations Act? 

Email the general secretary of your union, the Ictu and your local trades Council.

All Ictu Unions & trades councils are now calling for the restoration of all rights lost as a result of the 1990 industrial relations act. 

Can’t hear them? 

Ask them why not? 

 

Here is a template you can use or draft your own:

 

Dear [insert General Secretary/National Exec name],

 

​​I am contacting you as [insert your trade union here] member to follow up on our union’s policy that stands against the anti-trade union 1990 Industrial Relations act as a result of the recent Ictu BDC that adopted the position to oppose the act,  has [Union name] been able to progress any work on this internally? 

 

As part of our work towards this policy position, we need to demonstrate the importance that the Ictu make a press release on the newly passed position from the BDC in order for them to kick start the process. A subgroup to work on the campaign as outlined in the motion [see attached below] needs to be set up without delay if it has not been already. 

 

Our unions representative on the Ictu NEC must raise this as part of fulfilling our own union’s efforts to progress our policy?

 

Who or have Ictu designated anybody to lead the process  “to seek an alternative legislative regime which would allow trade union and industrial action for workers, for issues that concern workers across society and, across employers, and for effective solidarity to workers in dispute” as mandated at the recent Ictu BDC. If not why not? 

 

Is there anything the rank and file can do to further our own position and speed up this process for the benefit of all workers and union members?

 

In solidarity,

 

[sign off]

 

The motion (amended) unanimously passed at the Ictu Bdc:

 

“Conference recognises that the restrictions on trade union action in the 1990 Industrial Relations Act need to be opposed, and that the act should be reformed to restore rights which trade unions had before 1990. Conference mandates the executive to seek an alternative legislative regime which would allow trade union and industrial action for workers, for issues that concern workers across society and, across employers, and for effective solidarity to workers in dispute”

 

              Template ends

 

This is now your union policy play your part in getting it implemented email your union today.

 

The members are the union and this is our union policy it won’t happen without pressure.

 

Trade unions must be radical or they will become redundant.

 

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=3064255203791245&id=1407995396083909

Where to now for union organising and bargaining?

This article will update readers on a couple of interesting and important developments for unionised workers in both the South and the North of Ireland.

Two position papers have been published in the last couple of months on union recognition, collective bargaining, and the right to organise, and one piece of important legislation has been brought forward in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

As readers will know, the Government in the South has instituted a high-level working group to review collective bargaining (including the ICTU) which will specifically look at the question of union recognition as well as wage-setting mechanisms. While we are not holding our breath, it does represent a further development and occurs in a context of mounting pressure and momentum elsewhere on these issues.

In the United States small unions are being formed in universities, coffee shops, breweries, the media, and warehouses. The Biden regime has put forward the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (now held up in Congress).

New Zealand has amended legislation that already grants unions a right of access, requiring employers to provide new employees with a copy of the relevant collective agreement and details of union contacts and how to join their union alongside their individual contract of employment, and providing paid time for union reps to do their duties in work. And the government has introduced a new Fair Pay Agreement, which strengthens sectoral pay bargaining, to come into force in 2022.

The EU directive pushes on with the Minimum Wages and Collective Bargaining Directive, though it is not without its problems.

These are just some of the policy moves that capital is making around the world to address imbalances and inequalities that threaten periodic crises of over-production and over-accumulation within the system. Such policies are the “better” form of managed capitalism.

In Ireland, repeated legal actions by employers (clearly demonstrating the class nature of the legal system and judiciary) have undermined industrial relations law and institutions and have left many people in the trade union movement looking to the EU and the potential EU Directive on Minimum Wages and Collective Bargaining as the solution.

This largely comes from frustration within the movement. However, where workers struggle, ideas and hope will always exist, and another way forward is being suggested. Daryl D’Art, a lecturer in employee relations at DCU, has argued that the prevailing conservative legal view is wrong and that the constitutional argument is really a bogeyman used to discourage legislators, and indeed the trade union movement, from trying to act. In this regard it has been very successful.

D’Art argues instead that if one takes a “purposive” approach to the interpretation of the right to join a union enshrined in the Constitution of Ireland that right is meaningless without a concomitant right to collectively bargain. This is a position supported in recent times by a number of rulings by the European Court of Human Rights.

The Financial Services Union has issued a pamphlet, Unionising and Collective Bargaining,* which calls for the right to join a union. It states:

All workers in Ireland have the constitutional right to join a trade union, but this is often frustrated, discouraged, or even penalised by some employers. It is time to change this and make it easier and safer for all workers to join a trade union. The greatest obstacles to joining a union from workers is fear of employer hostility and not being encouraged to join.

The document argues for legislation to

provide trade unions (staff and elected officers) with the right to access all workplaces to educate workers on their basic entitlements, including joining the trade union and discussions on workplace issues and collective bargaining. Union Representatives must also be provided statutory facilities time and support, including digital means, to carry out union duties including the recruitment of new members into the union.

These facilities should extend to workplaces where unions are not recognised. Union Representatives must be allowed discuss all workplaces matters including pay and conditions and must be provide meetings rooms and email access to arrange both physical and digital workplace meetings. These meetings can be held on paid working time. Union Representatives must be provided induction time with all new employees.

The pamphlet argues for legislation so that

workers who so wish can have trade union subscriptions deducted by their employer with the relevant details and the correct subscription passed to the designated trade union. Any employer refusing to give the right subscription should be liable to pay any arrears to the trade union and be in breach of the law and so fined. The threat or practice of removal of at source deduction needs to be removed from the bargaining table and legally protected.

On victimisation and unfair dismissal, the FSU document calls for

strong anti-victimisation measures . . . including immediate reinstatement, pending case, and significant financial penalties if proven. Union Representatives must have the strongest protections to be able to carry out their role free from fear of employer retaliation and employers must be disincentivised from doing so.

The FSU also did some polling, in which 1,292 people took part. They were asked: “Currently employers are not legally obliged to negotiate with the trade unions of their employees. Should employers be legally required to negotiate with their trade unions if employees wish them to do so?” 74 per sent of respondents said Yes, 17 per cent No, and 10 per cent replied Don’t know.

There were two other important features. Between age groups the answers remained remarkably consistent, showing no less interest in collective bargaining among younger people than among older generations. And, based on voting intentions by political party, a majority of voters of all parties in the Dáil support the legal right of unions to negotiate if employees wish them to. The weakest support was (no surprise) among Fine Gael voters, at 56 per cent Yes, and the strongest among Labour Party voters, at 95 per cent. This suggests significant support for a legislative approach to rebalance power in the work-place more towards organised workers.

In line with this kind of thinking, Gerry Carroll MLA (PBP) has brought forward a Trade Union Freedom Bill, which seeks to do a number of positive things to undermine Thatcherite legislation from Britain, namely:

  1. repealing the ban on secondary picketing,
  2. providing for electronic voting in ballots,
  3. reducing the period of notice of the start of a ballot given to employers from seven days to two days,
  4. reducing the employment size required for collective bargaining from over 21 to 5, and
  5. expanding the definition of collective bargaining to include “terms and conditions of employment” more broadly.

These are all initiatives that communists and all readers of Socialist Voice should support. While not an end in themselves for the working class, they will, if secured, redefine the balance of power in work-places for organised workers and organised labour.

*Available at https://www.fsunion.org/assets/files/pdf/fsu_unionising__collective_bargaining_final_version.pdf

Let’s stop needless bureaucracy for bereaved families

When a loved one dies and after they are laid to rest, attention has to turn to get their affairs in order. This is no small task for grieving families. 
For some, this will include starting the probate process, notifying insurance companies and financial institutions, cancelling utilities and subscriptions, closing social media and email accounts. For all, it will require contacting multiple government departments and official agencies to cancel benefits, entitlements, and public services. 

During this extraordinarily difficult time, a bereaved relative is required to telephone, write or attend each relevant section within each public body to notify them of the death, often repeating the same information – name, PPSN, the date of death.

For example, if the deceased was an older person, within the Department of Social Protection the next-of-kin must go in-person to a civil registration office to register the death, contact the pensions section, the free travel section, and maybe also, the carers sections.

Within the HSE, the medical card section, each hospital department (to cancel appointments and close files) and, maybe also, the home help section, the respite services section and the day-care services section all have to be notified that the service user has died. Revenue will have to be contacted to settle tax issues, the NDLS to cancel a driving licence and the deceased’s passport returned to the passport office for cancellation. To name but a few.

While the sensitivity and professionalism of public servants in their dealings with people after a bereavement is not in question, navigating this bureaucratic maze is complex, time-consuming, and risks causing upset. We have all heard of people being blindsided by grief when a jury summons or polling card for a long-dead loved one comes through the letterbox because the local authority had not been requested to remove the deceased’s name from the electoral register. 

It is not unreasonable to assume that the paperwork burden imposed on those we leave behind is the unavoidable price for a big state that provides us with an extensive range of public services and income supports when alive. 
However, our process for notifying officialdom of a death is in stark contrast with the UK, where a free ‘Tell Us Once’ public service allows a close relative to notify multiple central and local government agencies of the death at the same time. Everything, from a pension to a library card, is cancelled with a single phone call or online form.

During the previous government, a 2017 review of state services around dying, death, and bereavement recommended that the Department of Social Protection introduce a joined-up notification service similar to the Tell Us Once service in place in the UK. While the then minister expressed a willingness to explore the option on the floor of the Seanad no concrete action was taken until earlier this year, four years later.

Already within the Department of Social Protection processes are in place that when a next-of-kin registers a death with the General Register Office this information is shared across all sections that same day to terminate welfare payments, and with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for information sharing with the public sector pension services, local authorities and relevant public bodies. But this is a fraud prevention measure and is not publicised as a one-stop-shop option available to bereaved families.

Last year a public consultation on proposals to address deficiencies in the current death registration process was launched by the Department of Social Protection. The manner and time it takes to register deaths had been found to hamper the ability of the state to provide timely death data from public administrative sources to support the pandemic health measures, unlike in other high-income peer countries.

In our submission to the consultation, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions recommended Government close the gap in public service delivery for people who have suffered a bereavement by providing a joined-up notification service. In the words of our general secretary, Patricia King “This simple fix would mean so much to the families of the 32,000 people who die in Ireland each year.”

Dr Laura Bambrick is Social Policy Officer at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS BOOKLET