Northern Ireland trade union movement welcomes NERI report that shows there is a 13% pay premium for trade union members

7 May 2020

E3 Telly.JPG

Speaking after the publication of the Nevin Economic Research Institutes publication of its research paper, The Impact of Collective Bargaining on Pay in Northern Ireland, Owen Reidy, ICTU Assistant General Secretary, welcomed the findings as a vindication of the positive role played by trade unions, not only for members, but for the wider economy.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is forcing all of us to suspend some of our cherished and long-held beliefs about our economy and society and the relationship between the two.

“Applause from our doorsteps is one welcome thing, but we should take this opportunity to show our gratitude for key workers across a range of sectors, many of whom we have long rewarded with low pay and precarious contracts.

“Those workers deserve the status they have earned, and it is time to consider how to benefit those and all similar workers in the long term. Eventually, this pandemic will end and we need to start thinking now about our society after the crisis, and with the same ambition as did that earlier generation who rebuilt a better and fairer Britain and Europe after World War 2.

“There are methods for making societies less equal, and we have tried most in the past decade. There are other methods common in those countries which have weathered the storm better prepared and with less lethal results than the UK so far.

“In Germany, the Low Countries and Scandinavia, they have deeply funded welfare states marked by more progressive taxation, whose public health systems have coped better than ours, despite the heroics of NHS staff. Those states also include trade unions, as well as large and small businesses, in policy formation.  Those countries also support and facilitate trade unions and employers negotiating with each other on pay and conditions of employment across the economy. It’s called Collective Bargaining and it’s too rare in the UK or Ireland,  especially in the private sector.  

“We know that the majority of the firms in Northern Ireland are small and that Northern Ireland has a productivity problem. There are a number of issues required to boost productivity. One of the many issues is skills, but another issue is collective bargaining. Other research including that carried out by the OECD shows that collective bargaining is actually good for productivity and therefore good for business as well as for workers.

“NERI’s findings clearly demonstrate the benefits for workers of a trade union negotiating pay in the workplace in Northern Ireland. The research shows that when one accounts for age, qualifications and job description, workers who are covered by trade union negotiated pay arrangements rather than negotiating individually, are on average 13% better off.

“The paper also shows that 53% of all workers in Northern Ireland have a union bargaining in their workplace and that the coverage in the public sector is 80% while it is only 32% in the private sector.

“It also shows that  collective bargaining coverage for ranges from 24% in firms with less than 10 employees to 83% for those in firms with between 500 and 1000.

“We know that the legal and industrial relations framework governing relationships at work are important in determining the roles of trade unions in the economy and society. Uniquely these such powers are devolved in Northern Ireland.

“As we work together in this global pandemic and try and keep society safe it is critical, as the debate turns to how and when we gradually re-open our society and the economy, that the NI Executive continue to take all the necessary steps to engage with unions and employers through the NI Engagement Forum. But we need to learn from our experience and the NI Executive should pass pragmatic and reasonable legislative measures to vindicate the clauses around workers’ rights and economic rights referenced in the ‘New Decade New Approach’ agreement by increasing the scope of collective bargaining across the NI economy in the clear interests of workers, business and to boost productivity, which is everyone’s business,” concluded  Mr Reidy.