It is difficult, in the middle of self-isolation and news on the spread of Covid-19 at home and internationally, to think into the future and the issues that will still need to be addressed by IFUT when this crisis passes.
Just a little over a decade ago the banking crisis and economic collapse hit us in different but equally devastating ways.
While that immediate crisis passed, the impact on the economy and society lasted far longer. Higher education institutions, staff and students had still not recovered from the impact of swinging funding cuts from that crash when we were hit with Covid-19.
Will government policy after Covid-19 seek to enforce another decade of austerity to pay for the pandemic? Or can a new approach be taken?
The psychology of our approach to post Covid-19 needs to be considered and developed now, before we self-isolate into an acceptance of another decade of recession and cuts in the ‘national interest.’
Dr Shana Cohen, Director of TASC, the independent think tank on social change, in a recent article suggests that ‘national interest’ is continually ‘altering in real time.’ She points to the “remarkable solidarity among a wide range of services and organisations” in combating Covid-19 but that ‘national interest’ and ‘party interest’ should not be being aligned as the same thing.
The financial crisis of the last decade was estimated to have cost us €41.7 bn to the end of 2019. The IMF warned last week that Covid-19 could cause "a recession at least as bad as during the global financial crisis or worse."
The next round of pay talks, due to commence this summer, will take place within such a dynamic. A combination of Covid-19 and delays in formation of a new government will delay the formal start of that process. But, as in all other cease-fires, it still remains a truism that ‘we haven’t gone away, you know.’
There is currently a huge level of national solidarity, of health care workers devoting immense levels of extra commitment, of community and volunteering endeavour supporting the most vulnerable and college lecturers and administrations devising novel means to ensure examinations proceed.
Why should it be automatically presumed or proposed that this great national effort will be rewarded with another decade of austerity?
To adapt the thoughts of Oscar Wilde, to have to pay for one recession may be unfortunate, to pay for a second seems more like carelessness.
The Irish government is pumping money into the economy at this time. At international level the ECB and Fed in the US are doing the same.
Most tellingly, the UK Conservative party government has taken the dynamic step to offer workers who lose their jobs up to 80% of wages during the crisis.
Similar levels of imagination must be utilised to revive our economy post Covid-19. The financial beatings cannot continue until the economy improves.
We need the equivalent of a ‘Marshall Plan’ for society, here and internationally.
The resolve across the Trade Unions operating within the public sector, supported and aligned with the view of the private sector Unions is that the cost of this crisis cannot be allowed to bring on another recession, pushing poverty wages and increasing taxes on the very people that will bring about a solution to this crisis.
Instead, these are the very people that should be recognised and rewarded for their gargantuan efforts when the opportunity to engage in collective bargaining comes around, either in the Public Sector Pay Talks or in Sectoral or Local Pay Bargaining.
Within that philosophy, IFUT will follow the mandate of our members as presented by our Executive Committee. Our resolve will remain strong throughout any negotiation to return to our membership with a proposal that recognises the effort made and the costs paid by our members, associated with overcoming Covid-19.