Points for General Election 2011

Points for General Election 2011

Congress Equality

Points for General Election 2011

“National Recovery with Equality”

Congress has long been a believer in a more equal society, both in terms of income and identity (more detail below). In the context of the 2011 General Election, here are our suggestions for political parties.

Congress calls on all political parties participating in the forthcoming General Election to spell out what they will do to promote a fairer and more equal country. Specifically, this should include:

A strong, independent equality infrastructure with an Equality Authority that is equipped (including the immediate filling of the vacant Legal Advisor post) to raise awareness of discrimination and build public support for equality, and also to investigate and challenge discriminatory practices beyond simply relying on individual complaints. This should include a more proactive approach to implementing equality and, in particular the need for a positive duty requiring private sector organisations to be planned and systematic in their approach to equality and for public sector organisations to have due regard to equality in carrying out their functions and the need to further develop a support infrastructure to assist organisations in implementing this proactive approach to equality ; and Equality Tribunal equipped to deal with cases in a timely and professional manner, ending the current scandal of delays in getting cases heard. This should also include the right to an oral hearing. Any review body of this architecture should include representation from trade unions and civil society and any proposed structural changes should ensure enhancement and not any dilution of our European obligations under equality Directives.

Gender Equality: Congress advocates that any budgetary decisions must be taken in a manner which is sensitive to its differential impact on women and men and must be examined from a gender perspective. It is critical that Budgetary decisions seek to alleviate the worst consequences of the recession on women by protecting the most vulnerable women and ensuring that progress that has been made towards equality for women is not reversed. There should be an immediate review of the National Women’s Strategy –see Congress views here.

support the logic of the recent ECHR decision that abortion, in certain circumstances, should be legalised in Ireland and to legislate in line with the Supreme Court X case judgment.

Immediate reversal of the reduction of the minimum wage by €1 per hour from €8.65 to €7.65.

Religious exemption: Repeal of Section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Act – see letter to former Minister Mary White;

Congress notes that the Finance Bill 2011 will not now contain the provisions to implement Civil Partnership within the tax codes. We urge all parties to commit to bring forward the necessary measures as soon as possible after the election.

A commitment to equal marriage rights for same sex couples

The best way to combat sex trafficking and prostitution is to tackle the demand for paid sex by criminalising the purchase of sex. (See )

Review of the leaves (Maternity, Parental, Paternity) as they operate in Ireland to include consideration of:

a)the introduction of a statutory entitlement to flexible working arrangements for workers;

b)a statutory entitlement to paternity leave;

c)extended paid maternity leave and paid parental leave and transposition of the COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 2010/18/EU of 8 March 2010 implementing the revised Framework Agreement on parental leave concluded by BUSINESSEUROPE, UEAPME, CEEP and ETUC and repealing Directive 96/34/EC

d)learning leave for low-skilled workers

A continuing commitment to create an environment in Ireland that enables the participation of people with disabilities.Ireland has national strategies in place that reflect this goal.What we need now is a Government determined to carry the strategies through and advance toward our shared goal, despite the economic challenges.Congress supports the NDA advice to prioritise the implementation of theNational Disability Strategy, through the development of a framework of integrated actions including:

  • Completion and implementation of the review of the efficiency and effectiveness of Disability Services currently underway as part of the Government’s Value for Money and Policy Review (VFMPR) Initiative;
  • Disability Proofing is an important initiative to ensure that taking account of the impact on people with disabilities is embedded into public policy development and needs to be embedded in departmental plans and actions;
  • Employment is a critical issue for people with disabilities. The finalisation and implementation of the proposed Comprehensive Employment Strategy for people with disabilities in order to:
  • increase the participation of people with disabilities in the workplace (by addressing the diversity of circumstances, needs and abilities of people with disabilities); and
  • enhance the operation and effectiveness of the range of FÁS supports and services for facilitating increased participation of disabled workers in the open labour market.

The Strategy will also form the basis for the provision of mainstream activation services for people in receipt of illness/disability welfare payments.

It is our strong view that underpinning equality in society and workplaces is respect for trade union rights in Ireland. We are seeking a reformed legislative framework that will properly protect all workers so that they can organise in unions without fear of reprisal and have their right to collective bargaining properly respected in a manner consistent with our international obligations.


Annette Dolan, Chair of Congress Equality Committee


Carol O’Brien

Chair of Congress Women’s Committee and


Deirdre O’Connor, Chair of Congress Disability Committee

Congress and Equality:

More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (outlined in detail in book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, published by Penguin in March 2009). Until recently, most of the argument about the scale of income inequality in modern societies has been about fairness and unfairness. But it has recently become possible to compare the scale of income differences in different societies and see how the social fabric of society is affected by how much inequality there is. Congress has pointed out for many years the way the wealth gap has grown immensely in Ireland, as a small minority have made extraordinary amounts of money with the economic boom during the Celtic Tiger years. This is confirmed by the ICTU and TASC report on income inequality launched in Nov 2009. The Hierarchy of Earnings, Attributes and Privilege (H.E.A.P.) report, designed to present the facts about income inequality in Ireland shows that:

  • Five per cent of families live on incomes exceeding €134,000
  • 58 percent of families live on less than €40,000
  • 26 percent of families live on less than €20,000
  • When analysed in terms of occupation, only the managerial/professional occupation category makes its way to the very top of the H.E.A.P. (an annual income of €600,000)
  • Income distribution became more unequal between 1987 and 2005. The distance between those at the top and those at the bottom widened.
  • Conventional measures of income inequality, such as the Gini Coefficient or quintile share ratios, fail to capture the increase in inequality
  • Relative poverty levels before Social Welfare transfers increased from 35.6 per cent to 41 per cent from 2001 to 2007. Social Welfare played a critical role in reducing poverty levels from 21.9 per cent in 2001 to 16.5 per cent in 2007
  • Women's income was around two-thirds of men's income; adjusting for differences in hours worked women's hourly earnings were around 86 per cent of men's. Women were also more likely to be at risk of poverty.
  • There is a striking 'education premium': the median gross income of those with no formal education, or primary education only, was €13,489, while those with a university degree had a median income of €45,707

Other indicators of Ireland remaining a deeply unequal society include:

Employment rates of people with health problems or disability, at 33%, are among the lowest in the OECD. In turn, more than one in three of them live in poverty: 37% compared to an OECD average of 22%. This is 2.5 times the figure of the general population of Ireland.

78.8% of 25-44 year olds are in employment in 2006 compared to 63% of 45-64 year olds

0.8% of Irish Travellers aged 15 and over has attained third level education in 2006 compared with 30.5% of the overall population

The percentage of lone parents with third level education (23.2%) is lower than the 34.4% of other parents

In 2004, 12.5% of people aged 18 and over reported that they had experienced discrimination in the preceding two years on the nine grounds covered by equality legislation and on other grounds

Congress has long called for the development of a quality childcare infrastructure in Ireland. The absence of support for women to access affordable quality childcare remains one of the most significant barriers to women's equal participation in workplace and society. Ireland has the second highest childcare costs across the OECD and this particularly impacts on mothers on low incomes and on lone parents.

All measurements of equality and wellbeing (Gini Coefficient, at risk of poverty rate etc..) place Ireland at the bottom of the EU 15 league (along with Spain, Portugal and Greece (lending credibility to inequality also being part of the cause of the crisis rather than just a symptom)..(See: 2 )

Research has also made a strong case for equality and diversity being good for business performance, building a compelling business case for investment in workplace equality and diversity. Also, a study of the nature of management and workplace practices in Irish-based private sector companies finds compelling evidence that equality and diversity strategies, workplace partnership, and flexible working systems have a positive impact on labour productivity, innovation, and employee wellbeing. ( )

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions and our affiliate trade unions have had a longstanding commitment to the promotion of equality. In 2009 we published a major set of Congress Equality Policy Papers, which contain detailed recommendations. We have also been an active member of the Equality and Rights Alliance and their pre election work, Claiming our Future has been a major proponent of more Equality in society and some affiliates are members of the National Women’s Council who have developed a Charter for Women’s Equality. For Election 2011, we would like to see political parties and candidates committing themselves to the view that National recovery should not be achieved at the expense of dismantling hard-won protections for the rights of the vulnerable and weakest in our society or institutions to combat discrimination and promote equality and human rights. Any Plan for National Recovery should include a strong, effective, independent and adequately resourced equality, and human-rights infrastructure so that we can emerge from this crisis with a better, fairer society that respects and protects the dignity of all its members.