Establishment of social dialogue and Pension Commission consultation
On Friday, the Labour Employer Economic Forum (LEEF) met and was chaired by An Taoiseach Micheál Martin with An Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Ministers Eamon Ryan and Michael McGrath in attendance too. The LEEF is the tripartite structure between business led by Ibec and the trade unions led by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions that interacts with Government on labour market issues. Confirmation that Social Dialogue will be the established model for Government interaction over the coming years was given at the Forum. This has been a key pillar of Ibec campaigning in recent years and a substantial outcome for us in the development of the Programme for Government.
This is significant for Ibec members. It provides structured and regular access to cabinet for meaningful policy dialogue, influence and outcomes. All LEEF meetings will be chaired by An Taoiseach and all relevant members of the cabinet will attend. With this in place, business and our stakeholders are at the core in steering the national agenda on labour market issues including the emerging global topic of collectivism in the workplace. What motivates us in business has changed since the days of social partnership, our agenda is broader and focuses on making that which supports and surrounds business sustainable. This is not a return to centralised wage bargaining but it gives a more systematic approach to the plethora of costs on businesses from issues of additional statutory leave, sick pay, remote working and living wage suggestions. But the conversations we will have in the months ahead will require much shaping to achieve progress on behalf of Irish society and business.
The LEEF discussed the Covid strategy on the so-called “prolonged suppression”. It is clear that the strategy involves the substantial restrictions to be kept in place until the vaccination strategy has reached an unspecified critical tipping point, but mid-May would appear to be an indicative date. Any release on activities like schooling and construction activities will be on a more phased basis, that is more reflective of the First Lockdown reopening from last year. The impact on indigenous Irish business in particular of the prolonged restrictions, whilst partially addressed by the extension of the State supports beyond March, is very severe. The true costs are not just financial but are in the sense of hopelessness experienced by businesses in having no specific timeline nor specified metrics to plan for a rebooting of activity.
Discussion on Brexit covered the need to address the labour market impacts of uncertainty on factors not accounted for by the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) such as mutual recognition of qualifications, upon standards like equivalence arrangements for services such as finance and on certainty for data transfers etc.
The National Recovery and Resilience Plan is open for submissions and we will be making a substantial input for business in a targeted approach. In addition, the Pensions Commissions has been asked to develop a range of options for the Government to consider addressing the sustainability of the state pension and the Social Insurance Fund in terms of pension age, contribution rates, eligibility criteria, calculation methods and payment rates. It has also been asked to address the impact of private sector employment contracts specifying retirement ages below the state pensions age on the pension system. The Commission has opened a public consultation to which Ibec will be making a detailed submission. In order to inform our response, Ibec will shortly issue a members’ survey and our nominee on the Commission, Tony Donohoe, will coordinate our responses. The Commission is also inviting submissions from individuals.
We will regroup this week on how businesses will need to respond to the competitiveness and sustainability of our business from a prolonged lockdown of critical activities.
I will leave you with the latest episode of our “Ibec Voices” podcast which features an interview with Kari Daniels, CEO of Ireland’s largest private sector employer, Tesco.
As always, please get in touch with any comments or questions, it’s always good to hear from you.