Higgins: Pandemic is once-in-a-generation chance to improve workers' rights

ireland
The president said that the pandemic had highlighted how frontline staff and essential workers have become 'undervalued' by economic practices.
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By Greg Murphy

President Michael D Higgins has said the Covid-19 pandemic has presented us with a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to improve our society and working life.

Speaking at the annual conference of the trade union Fórsa, he praised staff and more than 80,000 members for their contributions during the Covid-19 pandemic, across a diverse field of occupations and work settings.

He acknowledged those "continuing to attend workplaces to maintain essential services, such as health and social care professionals, staff in social protection and other civil service departments, local authority workers, and staff in telecoms and postal services.

"Many more have quickly adjusted to working remotely, while others have depended on State income supports, and have experienced wage reductions. Regrettably, some members have faced the prospect of lay-offs and redundancy."

He commented: "The task now at hand is to create a society that is more equal, one in which all work is valued, and all jobs are decent, fulfilling and secure, together with adequate social protection."

'Opportunistic'

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President Higgins said that during the crisis employers and governments around the world have moved to "restrict further the rights of working people" in "insidious and opportunistic" ways.

"We continue to witness increases in precarious employment, contract working, and an ongoing casualisation of labour, with new and emerging trends in work practices that are often deemed ‘innovations’ insofar as they provide new means to maximise profits for employers, but in their practical delivery reveal the ongoing erosion of employees’ hard-won labour rights."

He added: "We see how online workers often are not covered by the most basic employment law or collective agreements, all rationalised in the name of efficiency, flexibility, productivity."

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President Higgins said that we should use our new circumstances to deepen and extend our solidarity "to encompass not only those who labour and work, whether in new conditions or old, but also those who are excluded and left out."

In his speech, the president also said that the pandemic had highlighted how frontline staff and essential workers have become "undervalued" by economic practices.

He said that after paying them fitting tributes at the height of the crisis, "to settle for reverting to where we were" would be regrettable and "a lost opportunity".

"We are all responsible for what we know and choose to ignore," he said.

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