By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The need for a new social partnership deal to help keep the Celtic Tiger running was stressed by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern when he addressed the biennial conference of trade unions bosses last week.
For 12 years national agreements between government, unions, employers and farmer representatives have delivered wage moderation, tax cuts and a range of social benefits that have fueled the country’s economic development.
The current deal, Partnership 2000, runs out at the end of the year.
"We must renew and develop the process which has proved itself in the Irish setting," he told the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, an umbrella body for 65 unions. "I have to say that negotiating a successor to P2000 will not be easy,"
Formal negotiations on a new deal begin in September and workers are seeking a greater slice of the benefits from the booming economy.
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Ahern said national deals began in 1987 when the country faced an economic abyss and the challenge now is to get a new one in the face of success.
He promised legislation on a national minimum wage and action on spiraling houses prices and childcare — all key union demands.
Ahern said the partnership deals delivered "a fundamental economic restructuring" of the economy.
"It is too simplistic to say that Ireland’s economic revival has merely been a matter of higher growth," he said.
The benefits included unemployment in June at its lowest since 1983 and inflation since partnership came into existence averaging 2.8 percent, compared with 11.7 percent in the preceding decade.