NI Trade Unions reinforce support for Forum for Social Dialogue for NI

16 Dec 2019

Owen Reidy - ICTU

The Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions welcome the commencement of a new round of talks today to seek to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland. Speaking ahead of the talks convened by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith MP, the ICTU Assistant General Secretary Owen Reidy commented:

“We wish each of the five participating parties in the talks process well and we hope that they can, with the assistance of the two governments, form a new, durable and functioning partnership government in the interests of all of the people of Northern Ireland. Clearly politicians have been told by their constituents in the recent election that now it is the time to restore devolution.

“Our society faces many urgent crises particularly in health, education and welfare amongst other pressing issues. Indeed, the unions representing health workers will be taking unprecedented industrial action this Wednesday if their claims for pay justice continue to be sidelined.

“Serious direct engagement, understanding the other side and compromising where necessary and appropriate, are all essential parts of any successful negotiation process. In Northern Ireland we need to move from a perception of ‘one side winning therefore the other must be losing’. The needs of the Northern Ireland community and economy are too important for that.

“It should be remembered, however, that a return of power sharing will not be a panacea to all our problems overnight. Any new government must be accompanied by an increase in targeted funding from Westminster in our areas of most need including health, education, infrastructure amongst other issues.

 Mr Reidy continued:

“A new government must mean a new way of governing and we cannot have simply have business as usual. That is why the NIC-ICTU have been calling on all the parties for some time to agree to set up a Forum for Social Dialogue composed of the trade union movement, employers, the farming community and the community and voluntary sector. We welcome today’s support for this concept from Trade NI.

“We believe a small, yet representative, Forum for Social Dialogue comprised of these sectors has the capacity to address serious economic challenges that Northern Ireland faces. Such a forum for social dialogue could look at the issue of the world of work and the concepts of Fair Work, productivity, an industrial strategy and childcare to name but a few issues.

“Such a Forum for Social Dialogue should not be confused with a civic forum as envisaged in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement or calls from some quarters for a citizens’ assembly both of which would be more appropriate structures to deal with issues of identity politics.

“Our idea for such a Forum for Social Dialogue works in most European states but crucially works well in Scotland and Wales, two other devolved parts of the UK which have been getting on with delivering for their citizens. It is therefore critical that such a Forum for Social Dialogue is something any new devolved government establishes without delay. This idea has support from a range of political parties across the community and from other representative social partners and is an essential element of any modern functioning democracy. This needs to be done now.”