12 July 2007 Edition
ICTU conference : Strong opposition to privatisation voiced
Martin McGuinness addresses ICTU delegates
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions held its biennial conference in Bundoran from the 3 to 6 July. Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, in his capacity of Deputy First Minister addressed the conference on Wednesday and on the Thursday Sinn Féin Workers’ Rights Spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD and Head of Sinn Féin’s Trade Union Department Caoilfhionn Ní Dhonnabháin attended the conference.
Martin McGuinness said he was “delighted to be here to address this conference exactly 100 days on from the historic agreement of 26 March”. He vowed to work with all aspects of civil and political society to help build “a society which celebrates our diversity and is determined to provide a better future for all of our people”.
McGuinness told delegates that the trade union movement across Ireland had an important contribution to make in the context of the restoration of devolved government in the Six Counties and the work of the new Executive. McGuinness’s address was well received by delegates.
Over the four days around 1,000 delegates debated over 70 motions on a variety of issues including pensions, employment standards, privatisation, health, energy and climate change.
Debate was interspersed with guest speakers including Niall Crowely, Chief Executive of the Equality Authority, John Monks of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the British TUC. A panel debate on health “Public V Private – Which Direction” took place on Thursday afternoon.
Strong opposition to privatisation across various sectors was a repeated theme as delegates debated motions. NIPSA and UNISON reiterated their strident opposition to water charges and the privatisation of water services. The implications of the developing economic situation for workers was also on the agenda at the conference where Bertie Ahern made his ill-tempered attack on those who dared to raise concerns about the future of the economy.
SIPTU’s General President Jack O’Connor warned delegates that, “We have to be acutely aware of the limitations of the character of our economic growth, which is based on consumer spending and the construction boom, all of which is credit-led. There are indications that it is already evaporating in the face of accelerating interest rates and inflation.”
The Civil and Public Sector Union tabled a motion on low pay noting the significant income inequalities and demanding that tackling widening income differentials by prioritising the needs of lower paid workers and those on average incomes be a priority within the next round of social partnership.
The first motions up for debate on Tuesday were on Equality followed by a private session on Congress finance and organisational issues. The issues up for debate on Wednesday included the Peace Process, and pay and employment rights. On Thursday the economy, the public service, education, health and social policy were discussed while the conference concluded on Friday with the discussion of motions on international and European issues.
In recent years some delegates have become increasingly convinced that the format of the biennial conference has become stale and outdated and is not serving the needs of Congress. This was reflected in the passage of a motion from the Executive Council for the establishment of a working group to examine the structure and functioning of the Congress Biennial Delegate conference.
Speaking from the conference on Thursday, Arthur Morgan said: “Sinn Féin is committed to working with the Trade Union movement across Ireland and a strong positive working relationship has now developed between us. ICTU represents over 800,000 workers North and South. It is important that public representatives come to conferences such as this and listen to what trade union members are saying. I am delighted to be here today when ICTU delegates are discussing key social and economic issues including the health service”.
Morgan went on to say that there are many challenges ahead that Sinn Féin and the trade union movement would have to work together on in order to be successful. These challenges according to Morgan included “opposing privatisation of public services – in particular in the health service and the postal service both of which are currently facing threats of privatisation”.