Ireland can no longer afford to subsidise the rich while being one of the most unequal countries in the world, a union leader has said.
Jack O'Connor, president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), said money left in the National Pension Reserve Fund must be used to drive a job-generating investment programme, warning that measures must also be taken to address the solvency of pension schemes and overturn the investment deficit.
Mr O'Connor called on Finance Minister Michael Noonan to engage with fund trustees to develop a scheme to secure 5% of the 78 billion euro pension fund assets - 4 billion euro - for investment in infrastructure and venture capital in the domestic economy.
"This would more than offset the deflationary effect of the 3.6 billion euro cut scheduled for budget 2012 and create upwards of 80,000 jobs, providing an enormous boost to confidence," he said. "At the same time, the thorny issue of the failure of those with real wealth to contribute in proportion to their capacity to do so must be grasped.
"We can no longer afford the luxury of subsidising the rich and being one of the most unequal countries in the world."
Up to 800 delegates are attending the ICTU biennial conference in Killarney where pay agreements for low earners, the banking crisis and job creation are top of the agenda.
In his keynote speech, Mr O'Connor hit out at possible reforms to cut the pay of low earners in sectors such as hospitality and security. He warned people were paralysed by the fear of losing their homes, pensions and jobs - and demanded homeowners making a genuine effort to service their mortgage be given a firm and absolute guarantee that their properties will never be repossessed.
"This is eminently possible in a state-owned banking system and the markets have already priced for it," he added.
"We can choose to remain as we are, limiting our aspirations to negotiating modifications on the agenda of the other side," he continued. "That course would amount to a betrayal of the heroic legacy of those who founded our movement. More importantly, it would be a betrayal of the interests of working people today and indeed of those not yet born. We must assert their right to a say in the future - a future that works for all on this island in a Europe that works for all of its citizens."
On Monday night, Taoiseach Enda Kenny opened the door for government and unions to create a new form of social partnership on workers' rights - but insisted old-style pay talks are not on the agenda. In his address to the conference, the Taoiseach suggested there was no reason negotiations, which collapsed in 2009 after 21 years, could not be revived in a new format.