Social Justice Ireland has proposed a policy framework for a new Social Contract that calls for decent jobs as part of a Vibrant Economy. Every person in society should have the right to contribute to that society. Part of this means that worthwhile employment should be a genuine option for everyone who seeks it. Jobs should provide decent working conditions and pay a wage that allows employees to achieve a decent standard of living. Recent decades have seen a gradual erosion in the quality and security of employment, not just in Ireland but across the developed world.
- We must increase the minimum wage to the level of the Living Wage.
Around 120,000 workers in Ireland earn the National Minimum Wage (NMW) or less, and up to twice that many again earn below the Living Wage – the rate a single person working fulltime must earn to achieve a minimum socially acceptable standard of living.
- We must strengthen and enforce legislation to tackle job precarity and low pay.
Ireland has one of the highest rates of low-paid employment in the OECD; almost 6 times the rate of Belgium, which is the best performer, and 2nd worst behind only the United States. We must address this from both a societal and an economic standpoint. Providing a living wage would also have a positive economic multiplier effect.
- We must develop flexible working initiatives to support remote working and increased participation for people with disabilities.
COVID-19 has changed the nature of work in Ireland. Remote and flexible working has become the norm for many workers who are not on the ‘front line’. While this has presented challenges, particularly for those juggling education and caring responsibilities, it has also presented the opportunity to test new ways to work. The Remote Work in Ireland – Future Jobs 2019 report acknowledges the importance of providing flexible alternatives from the point of view of sustainability, and increasing labour market participation among women and people with disabilities. The past number of months has proven that many of these alternatives already exist. These must now become streamlined to facilitate this broadening of the labour force participation.
- We must resource the up-skilling of those who are unemployed or at risk of unemployment.
In as much as COVID-19 has highlighted ‘essential work’, it has also brought into relief the precarity of certain types of employment, particularly work undertaken by younger workers. We must also begin a Just Transition to more sustainable employment in the context of environmental protection and globalisation. Through a process of employerled education and training initiatives, workers will be more adaptable and SMEs (small and medium enterprises) more sustainable through the retention of a skilled labour force.
- We must invest in Lifelong Learning as part of a human capital investment strategy.
Lifelong learning is essential to ensure Ireland can meet the challenges that automation and adaptation pose to the future of work. While Ireland’s lifelong learning participation rate is slowly improving (it was 13 per cent in 2019) those engaged in lifelong learning are more likely to be professionals rather than those with lower skills. Less than half of the adult population has at least basic digital skills and only 28 per cent of people have digital skills above a basic level. COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated how core this capacity is to working life and the urgency of addressing this deficit.
*On-location work (work found through an online platform, app or website done at a client’s home or another location away from your home, for instance handyman work, cleaning, beauty treatment or childminding).