On May Day, Congress (the Irish Congress of Trade Unions )publicly launched our€1bn Job Creation and Protection Plan, which aimed to see ‘all the machinery of the State harnessed to the goal of tackling the unemployment crisis’. That plan, which is our stated and considered view on the crisis, has been in the public domain for over two months now and has been the subject of extensive comment (www.ictu.ie)
It is our very clear view that unless and until Government begins to treat the jobs crisis as at least being equal in magnitude and scale with the banking crisis, it will simply not be capable of tackling it in the manner required, let alone addressing it.
Thus, the Congress plan called for a ‘range of new, innovative and creative measures that will harness all the machinery of state to the same objectives - protecting jobs, creating new employment and training and protecting peoples’ incomes’.
The plan included a wide variety of measures designed to ensure that redundancy was a ‘last resort’. It included ideas such as job rotation, state support for short-term working, a social employment programme to meet gaps in social infrastructure, reforming the social welfare system, changes to employment law and a more focused, strategic approach to training.
On June 23, Government issued a framework document containing proposals on jobs, pensions and home repossessions. In many respects this was a formal response to our own jobs plan. Among the Government proposals was one to allocate €250m to a Temporary Employment Subsidy Scheme.
Congress criticised the proposals package for its ‘poverty of ambition’ and the failure to allocate a level of resources commensurate with the crisis. We have conveyed this response to Government and, at the time of writing, are still awaiting a response.
And with the latest unemployment figures confirming that we will almost certainly see 500,000 jobless by year’s end, the fact that we are still awaiting that response is a source of enormous frustration. We need to see far greater urgency, if not a sense of national emergency.
Contrary to what has been suggested by some commentators, no employment subsidy scheme has been agreed with Government.
But there is no doubt but that we need urgent state intervention to address unemployment. Doing nothing is not an option. And we have one major factor in our favour - such intervention is working well across the Continent, meaning we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but can shamelessly plagiarise whatever works best.
Indeed, a recent issue of the Financial Times - not a known advocate of state intervention - devoted a full page to an approving look at how support schemes to keep people working were operating in Germany, the Netherlands, France, Hungary, Portugal, Slovenia, Switzerland and Finland.
Thus, Germany currently has 1.25m people on state-supported short-term working (a model cited in the Congress job plan). In effect, Government support allows companies faced with a dip in demand to introduce shorter working hours and skills retraining.
Without this scheme, German authorities estimate that an additional 500,000 people would be out of work and the national jobless total at 4m.
The thoroughly-researched Financial Times study also looked at similar schemes in the US and UK, where they operate without state sanction or support. It concluded that the continental model was far more effective in terms of ‘restraining’ the rise in jobless numbers.
The evidence and experience is all there. We can learn some very useful lessons from our continental colleagues, if we choose to. Or we can do nothing.
David Begg, Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Union, was writing ahead of the unions, ‘Get Up, Stand Uo’ national day of action this Friday, November 6.