Agreement on wage increases between employers and workers is seen by many as essential to the continuing boom in Ireland. And now, it seems, such agreement is taking shape.
Although all the details, such as on taxes, social welfare and other non-pay elements, have not been finalized, leaks from the talks on Monday suggested that the employers body, the Irish Business Employers Confederation, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions have agreed in principle to a significant increase in the national minimum wage, a 15 percent pay increase, and for the agreement to last for two years and nine months.
There have been fears that huge pay demands could lead to inflation, but the IBEC is seeking guarantees that any pay increases that are conceded will not undermine competitiveness and employment. Employers have also sought some form of productivity in return for pay increases.
The stakes in reaching a new agreement on pay and other issues are high. Government and private-sector employers have been warned that the country’s unions are prepared to return to a local bargaining free-for-all if talks on the new national agreement breaks down. The leader of the largest civil service union said that there would be no difficulty negotiating "in the traditional manner" if the pay gap between unions and employers could not be bridged.
Meanwhile, fears that a more liberal attitude to foreign workers will result in a long-term drain on the treasury are unfounded, according to Bank of Ireland director, Brian Goggin, who is also the president of the Institute of Bankers.
"More workers will relieve the pressure on wages, facilitate further industrial and commercial growth and boost tax revenues even further," he said. Inevitably, he added, Ireland would see continuing growth in immigration and a more liberal approach to foreign workers. This, he said, could just be the safety valve that the economy needs.
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"People will always follow jobs and Ireland is one of the few European counties with an obvious surplus at present. Equally, if the jobs disappear, the people will leave with them. The movements of our own emigrants over the years illustrate the point," Goggin said.