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7 January 1999 Edition

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Workers in struggle: Welcome to Euroland

Europhoria, Eurozone, Euroland - the superlatives were out in force this week for the birth of the euro. A 30,000 strong party was thrown in Frankfurt and photo opportunities were held across the EU for the launch of the euro. Lucky enough there were also protests in Dublin and pies in the Netherlands. Mind you the Dutch finance minister didn't seem that happy at having a custard pie thrust in his face.

You might have been forgiven for thinking that the euro was the only significant event of the new year. It is hugely significant not only for Europe but for the future of the Irish economy. There are, though, other significant issues looming for the Irish economy. Neil Forde outlines some of these important issues that will shape the year to come kicking off with a not so fond farewell to the punt.

Punt Requiem

Born 16 March 1979, died 31 December 1999. The punt passed away this week almost unnoticed in the hype surrounding the build-up to the launch of the euro single currency. Not yet an independent adult and always a dependent of either sterling or its benevolent in-laws the deutschmarks, the punt never got to exercise its independence.

The punt was always kept housebound, cosseted by its over protective parents. The punt never came out to play, never got to take its own decisions, or plan its own future. Instead, the punt spent most of its life looking forward only to increases in pocket money from its rich German relatives. In the end when the terminal illness struck it was the self-same German relatives who took the decision to pull the punt's life support.

The punt is survived only by distant relatives who are already squabbling over the sharing out of the small estate bequeathed to them. Funeral arrangements are private and condolences should be sent as soon as possible to the Central Bank in Dublin before they relocate to Frankfurt.

Deadly work

66 people died in the 26 Counties at work in 1998, a 40% increase on 1997. 27 people died in the farming sector, 22 in the construction industry, six in fishing as well as two in manufacturing.

The upshot of this is that during each month of 1999 at least five people will die at work. In terms of the construction industry, the people who are building the most visible aspects of the Celtic Tiger, nearly two will die every month in 1999.

This is one of the most unacceptable aspects of the Celtic Tiger, the economic boom has meant more people losing their lives so that others can make more profits. Publicity on the abuse of health and safety in the workplace has been sparse in recent years, brought only to the public notice by campaigning workers. Another year of inadequate implementation of health and safety regulation seems very likely in 1999.

Deregulation doubts

Mary Harney at the close of 1998 gave us the first coalition buzzword for 1999 - deregulation. The Enterprise Trade and Employment minister wants to deregulate the taxi and pub businesses on the basis that we consumers are getting a raw deal.

It is a clever ploy by the minister. Pick two economic sectors which need substantial positive change in how they are run and promise Joe Public that the only way to achieve this is by deregulation.

So what does deregulation actually mean? It means taking away constraints usually put there for good reasons. Isn't it amazing for example that minister Harney can introduce legislation that will extend pub opening hours but she cannot produce legislation to allow workers the right not to work on Sundays?

Deregulation, together with its cousin privatisation, is usually a means of boosting profits for business and decreasing the quality of services to the public. Deregulation of TV broadcasting has meant that now TV viewers have to pay for programming that was previously free. Deregulation of telecommunications, water and electricity markets in Europe and the USA has meant hugely increased profits for producers, and in the case of water and electricity often higher prices for consumers.

Deregulation of employee tax codes is considered by construction industry unions as a significant contributor to accidents and deaths on building sites. So watch out, deregulation is on the way in 1999 and it's coming for you.

House prices

One of the downsides to the Celtic Tiger is that more and more of its workers cannot afford to own their own homes. 1999 looks like providing no let-up in the growth of house prices. Many of those who are on the home ownership ladder can benefit in the short-run from the increase in the value of the property they own.

However thousands of others have found home ownership out of reach and are dependent on either the private sector where rents have increased substantially over 1998 or are waiting on local authority housing lists which more than doubled during 1998.

In 1998 the Dublin Government commissioned the Bacon Report on housing and took little action from even its limited conclusions. So in 1999 the gap between those who own their own homes and those who don't is set to grow more.

Partnership 2000

There are a range of unresolved industrial relations issues in the 1999 pending tray. These include union recognition, Sunday working, the Industrial Relations Act, the minimum wage etc. However the industrial relations issue likely to dominate the news in 1999 is whether or the Irish Congress of Trade Unions should participate in a new partnership agreement.

Since 1987 we have had the Partnership for National Recovery (PNR), the Partnership for Economic and Social Progress (PESP), the Partnership for Competitiveness and Work (PCW) and finally Partnership 2000. Each agreement involved trade unions limiting their demands for wage increases to levels barely above inflation in return for reform of the tax system and other progressive social measures.

Now 12 years on there has finally been some positive changes in employee taxes. However the events of recent years have clearly shown that while PAYE workers were paying their taxes, another privileged elite were not.

Now the process of negotiating a new partnership agreement is set to begin again and one wonders will the Trade Union Movement after 12 years of selling themselves short be finally able stand up to the Dublin Government and the employers' organisations and demand real concessions from both parties.

It is not very likely that this will happen. What is more likely is that 1999 will see a year of tough talking by the leadership of the trade union movement but culminating in the now ritual sellout. It doesn't matter if it's Ireland or Euroland, 1999 will be another year of growing inequality with the same inefficient and ineffective government, the same exploiters and oppressors.

Hopes for Cookstown jobs

New jobs could be on the way to Cookstown thanks to a major investment deal brokered on a recent trade mission to Australia. Locally based Kildress firm, Meteor International, returned from down under with hopes of a new £4 million investment plan and 45 new jobs.

The Cookstown council chairperson, Sinn Fein's Pearse McAleer, a member of the trade team, said Meteor International was one of seven companies taking part in the mission. He added, ``several companies achieved their business objectives and unusually for a trade mission some even returned with immediate orders.''

The trip, organised by LEDU as part of the `Into the West' initiative, took representatives from the seven companies and five councils in Tyrone and Fermanagh.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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