A restored Executive is urgently needed

by Declan Kearney

The Tory government’s announcement of a pay offer to public sector staff in Britain leaves workers in the six counties in limbo.

Public sector pay here lags far behind wage levels in Britain, and in the south of Ireland. Our teachers and health care workers, to take two examples, are being paid thousands of pounds less per annum than their counterparts on similar bands elsewhere. This is unsustainable. Increasing numbers of essential workers are being forced to use food banks and take out loans, because they cannot make ends meet. There is also a notable disparity in private sector pay settlements.

Low wages and precarious work are structural characteristics of this regional economy. These realities sit alongside chronic underinvestment in public services due to the decisions of successive British governments. One in every five children here live in poverty.

A recent letter from the local Head of Civil Service to the British Secretary of State set out the consequences of the Tory austerity agenda. Currently public services are failing to meet the needs of citizens. The latest round of imposed expenditure cuts will have a devastating effect upon regional services and especially for the most vulnerable. Senior civil servants are forecasting irreparable damage to the viability of health, education provision, and maintenance of infrastructure.

Partition and Tory policy has turned the north into an economic and political backwater. Brexit showed how little the Tories care about anyone here. Those in charge have no affinity with, or commitment to, the peace and political processes. Their only allegiance is to profit, and an economic model serving the interests of big businesses and banks, and the most wealthy.

Tory rule is bad for workers and families, for public services, and for the health and well being of society in this part of Ireland.

Workers are facing into a whole series of challenges. Increased interest rates and high inflation are creating unbearable financial pressures.

The DUP’s blocking the Executive means there is no mitigation against this Tory onslaught.

The absence of a functioning Executive has exposed public services and working families to even more ruthless cuts, and privatisation by stealth.

Unless an Executive, and a strategic financial investment package are in place by September, another imposed austerity budget will become inevitable, with even more terrible repercussions.

The EU Adequate Minimum Wages Directive sets new standards for the improvement of workers’ living and working conditions. It is due to be passed into domestic law in the 26 counties. Brexit means these protections will be denied to workers in the north.

At the same time, as greater austerity is imposed, new anti-trade union legislation from London will restrict local trade unionist’s right to strike, and will take powers to actually sack striking workers.

Earlier this month the Irish Congress of Trade Unions called for the development of a new long-term economic development model for the northern and southern economies to achieve sustainable growth, investment in public services, and promote the living standards of workers and families.

Sinn Féin has prioritised the introduction of workers’ rights legislation and called for the transfer of fiscal powers to the north. The persistent refusal of any British government to transfer economic and fiscal levers is untenable.

Years of austerity and the disaster that is Brexit has irreversibly changed our economic and political landscape.

One result is a new discussion about the future direction of the island economy, and how we integrate public services, manage pensions, attract investment, and secure workers’ rights in an all-island context. Irish reunification and membership of the EU is a central issue.

The economic case for Irish unity has moved centre stage.

As we plan for a new and better Ireland, we urgently need a properly resourced, and progressive power sharing Executive, one which will stand up for workers, families and public services and Sinn Féin is committed to leading that with others.

This story first ran in the latest issue of An Phoblacht. You can read the original here.