Fragile Northern Ireland economy under spotlight at ICTU conference


Fragile Northern Ireland economy under spotlight at ICTU conference

The fragile state of the economy in Northern Ireland, the UK government’s ‘austerity’ policies, and their impact on job security, terms and conditions, and public services, were the main focus of debate at the biennial Northern Ireland Conference of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) in April.

Prospect’s representatives at the conference were Paul Stewart and Philip O’Rawe.

The conference agenda covered a range of issues relevant to workers and their families in Northern Ireland, including:

  • the current status of the local “peace process”
  • social affairs issues such as marriage equality and abortion
  • the extensive work that unions are doing on recruitment of new members and organising of existing members.

Philip proposed a Prospect motion about unconscious bias, asking the ICTU leadership in Northern Ireland to help share knowledge and best practice on tackling this important issue.

“Research shows that unconscious bias is a significant factor in disadvantaging women, older people and people from minority groups,” he said.

The motion was carried, and feedback from other unions showed it had helped raise their awareness of this poorly-understood area.

In a debate on UK membership of the European Union, the conference came out strongly in favour of remaining in the EU. Delegates expressed particular concerns about the impact of a ‘Brexit’ on Northern Ireland as it is the only part of the UK with a land border with another country.

Other international issues discussed included the EU’s proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement with the USA, and the similar CETA agreement proposed with Canada. Both TTIP and CETA were heavily criticised, particularly for their potential damaging impact on the NHS and other public services, and the ICTU leadership were instructed to campaign against them.

The ICTU Charter for decent work in Northern Ireland was also finalised, and the local union movement is now campaigning around this.