The newly elected president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) has called for increased taxes on wealth to improve public services saying the tax burden is falling “too heavily on incomes”.
peaking at the Ictu biennial conference in Belfast, Kevin Callinan also called for an expansion of employer PRSI contributions.
Mr Callinan, who is general secretary of union Fórsa, said employer contributions in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland were way below the norm in other advanced European nations, which is leading to a shortfall in investment in public services.
Mr Callinan was elected as Ictu president at the conference. It is a two-year term, which he will serve in conjunction with his role as general secretary of Ireland’s largest public service union.
He told delegates that Ictu’s ‘No Going Back’ programme set out a vision for a “high skills, high productivity” post-Covid economy that provides secure well-paid work, a “European-standard social wage”, decent pensions and a strong safety net for those unable to work.
“Right now we spend far less on public services and infrastructure than similar European countries. Almost €3,500 less per person each year in the Republic, a total of over €17bn in 2019 alone,” he said.
“The entire public spending gap between Ireland and its nearest EU neighbours matches, almost exactly, the shortfall in employer social contributions.
“That’s why our vision of decent public services, worthy of a wealthy European nation, would be funded by an expansion of employer contributions, increased tax on wealth rather than just incomes, and meaningful financial deterrence for environmentally damaging activities.”
Mr Callinan said the pandemic had put past failures and future possibilities into sharp relief.
“Underfunded and disrespected for decades, the structural weaknesses of our public services, north and south, were laid bare for all to see,” he said.
“What passed as worker protections on this island – the weakest among the wealthier societies of Europe – exposed the insecurities that are the daily reality for hundreds of thousands of workers.
“The vulnerabilities of our low-tax, light-touch, fiscal and regulatory regimes left us exposed to a massive external shock for the second time in little more than a decade.”
Workers, communities and public services stepped up to the challenge of the pandemic, which meant “governments had little choice but to step up too.”
“Their response contrasted sharply with the earlier banking crisis, when they quickly ducked behind the devastating and divisive economics of austerity,” he said.
“This time, strong support for a State-led response to the massive public health and economic challenges emerged on this island and beyond.
“We saw what can be achieved when the State mobilises financial, organisational and human resources for the common good, when people work together collectively, and when citizens have access to essential goods and services.”
Conference delegates backed Ictu’s ‘No Going Back’ programme, which sets out a practical blueprint for embedding these principles into Ireland’s economic and social model.
Mr Callinan said: “‘No Going Back’ outlines how we can recover and rebuild an economy based on decent, secure well-paid work. A high-productivity, high-skills economy, supported by investment in education, childcare and infrastructure. An economy where all workers earn at least a living wage, and enjoy a European-standard social wage with robust social solidarity based on decent pensions and a strong safety net for those unable to work.”
He said the programme also planned for a sustainable society, “where workers and communities are heard and heeded through robust social dialogue, and where action to secure the future of our planet – through a just transition – trumps the pursuit of private profits for vested interests”.