Howlin calls for strong action to protect jobs if there’s a hard Brexit
Speaking in the Dáil in relation to the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union, the leader of the Labour Party, Brendan Howlin TD, has said Ireland must do whatever it takes to preserve jobs and avoid a return to the high unemployment of the last economic crash.
Deputy Howlin said:
“Brexit-related job losses are already occurring. From talking to trade union officials, I am aware of manufacturing businesses that have already ceased overtime and that have ended the contracts of temporary workers due to Brexit.
“It is simply incredible that the government does not have a more detailed economic analysis showing the potential job losses that could arise in six weeks’ time! This is an example of why Labour believes Fine Gael has been too passive on Brexit preparations.
“Every quarter, the Central Statistics Office contacts every employer with more than 50 workers, and a selection of smaller businesses, in order to conduct the Earnings and Labour Costs Quarterly Survey. A team of civil servants should already have telephoned the same range of businesses to ask them about their Brexit readiness and any risks to jobs. It is not too late for the government to do so.
“The Taoiseach has been unforthcoming about the kind of support that will be made available. Yesterday, he talked about what he called ‘viable’ businesses being eligible for support… but he indicated that the nature of that support would be either loans to businesses or else funding to support business restructuring. Many businesses in trouble cannot take on new debt, which could be attached to business owners on a personal basis.
“Labour has a different approach to how we should support jobs during the difficult months ahead. First and foremost, we need better information – real management information – about business preparedness for Brexit. Secondly, we need to be clear that our goal is to preserve as many jobs as possible through the inevitable difficulties of any no deal Brexit or hard Brexit. Thirdly, we need to prepare direct financial supports to businesses that need help to keep all their staff in employment.
“Labour is unambiguous. We would do whatever it takes to preserve jobs, to avoid a nightmare repeat of the job losses from when Fianna Fáil collapsed the economy.
“One possibility would be a short-time working scheme, where we would negotiate with employers and trade unions to reduce hours across a whole workforce rather than to make anyone redundant. The state’s role would be to provide a payment to help bridge the gap between short-time wages and people’s regular take home pay.
“Other businesses may need more specific support, such as language support to help them access other markets in Europe, or a scheme to lower the risk from currency fluctuations.”
Deputy Howlin continued:
“I want to say more about the core issue of jobs. Contrary to some media commentary, we have not reached ‘full employment’ in this country.
“The Irish labour market is highly precarious. Not everyone who wants a job can get one. And not everyone who gets a job can afford a home or to live a decent lifestyle. Unemployment is over six percent in some regions, and over eight per cent in my own region of the South East.
“No fewer than 23% of all workers are designated as ‘low paid’ by the OECD. This is the third highest incidence of low pay in the EU, and by far the highest rate of low pay in Western Europe.
“This is the state of our labour market before Brexit. The economy has recovered from its collapse in 2008, and unemployment is no longer at extreme levels. But we have not yet arrived at the point where there are decent jobs with fair pay for everyone. Brexit risks making the situation much worse.
“The extent of low pay and precariousness in the labour market – regardless of Brexit – is why we need to have a renewed national wages policy and employment policy. Regardless of Brexit, working people need a pay rise. And people in precarious jobs – especially young people – need greater job security. And if a hard Brexit does occur in just six weeks’ time, we must ensure that it is not used as an excuse to delay making much-needed improvements to workers’ rights, pay and conditions.”