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Union uproar after report raps ‘cheap labour’ Ulster

By Lindsay Fergus

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has blasted Invest NI and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for selling Northern Ireland as a cheap labour economy.

It comes following yesterday’s damning publication of the Independent Review of Economic Policy.

“For many years, they have promoted Northern Ireland as a cheap labour and low skilled economy, a soft touch for fly-by-night employers,” said Peter Bunting, the assistant general secretary of the ICTU.

He was reacting to the report that said: “Many jobs promoted by Invest NI, particularly those in the service sector, offered wages below the private sector average.”

University of Ulster vice-chancellor Richard Barnett, who chaired the review panel, expressed “particular concern” over job quality.

“Many of the new jobs promoted have been in call centres, some of which offer low wages and have contributed little to Invest NI’s mission to boost business productivity,” he said.

Mr Bunting said: “The report’s findings question the value for money achieved of spending £1bn of public money attracting least sustainable employers and the most tenuous and insecure jobs. We have been competing with Bangalore — and losing.” Mr Bunting welcomed the “forthright” report by the Independent Review of Economic Policy as official confirmation of criticisms made for many years by the trade unions about the direction of economic policy pursued by governance in Northern Ireland.

He said: “The report on economic policy by Professor Richard Barnett and his colleagues highlights the major failings of the path pursued by Invest NI and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

“Governing is about making priorities, and government of the people must work for all of the people.

“Now, more than ever, we need political leadership to focus on sorting out our deeply dysfunctional economy ahead of playing sectarian games among themselves.”

Jonathan Walmsley, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) public affairs officer, said he hoped the recommendations in the 276-page report will address the wage gap in Northern Ireland compared to other UK regions.

He said: “Wages in Northern Ireland have been historically lower than the rest of the UK but we are hoping that today’s recommendations, if put in place, can go some way to addressing this.”

“The many recommendations laid out in the document could help develop policy that will further enhance the Northern Ireland economy and the FSB is encouraged by recent Invest NI-led delegations to India and America, for example, that, if productive, will contribute towards securing more high end investment.”

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