Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs

European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions: Engagement with Mr. Juan Menéndez-Valdés

2:00 pm

Mr. Juan Menéndez-Valdés:

I thank the members and the Chairman for the very interesting questions, remarks and comments. They are also enriching our own reflection. I shall address some of the queries, but not all of them.

With regard to making the information available to all the different services, we try but we do not necessarily target each department. We usually make it available to the national organisations. We have a member of the Irish Government on our board who also receives all of the information.

Several questions were asked, and could be included as part of the final reflections by the Chairman, about what can be relevant around public services. This is where one sees a relatively positive image of many things for Ireland but not so much in the perception of a number of services. Some of them are better than others. I say this because there is a very high correlation between the citizens' perception of the quality of public services and the trust they have in their national government and national institutions. In countries where there is trust in the national government and in the parliaments and other public institutions, it is highest in Nordic countries where they also have a very high perception of the quality of public services. They pay a lot of taxes but they think that they receive a lot in return.

Members have pointed out clearly, and having lived in Ireland myself for a number of years I have also noticed it, that it is not necessarily an issue of money. The health system is the perfect example. Ireland invests well above the average in the health system but the access, affordability and quality perceived by citizens is lower. I am certainly not in a situation to give specifics but off the record I can tell of some personal experiences or opinions. They would be totally anecdotal and not scientific. In the transport area, it is probably about money; if more transport is wanted then more infrastructure costs money. In health or in education, however, it is not just money. There are countries, for example, which are less generous with child benefit but they have free early years education and care. That is a political choice. I am not saying that one is better than the other but these are elements that can be done within certain limits of the budget that a government will always have. If there is one thing that can be done to increase the trust of the people, it goes in this direction.

Reference was made to the evolution of the labour market, especially with regard to young people, part-time and temporary employment, precarious jobs and so on. Ireland is not that bad when compared with other countries in the EU. The general trend for part-time work is increasing all over Europe. The rest of the market has not so much change. In the UK, there are the zero-hour contracts and some forms of casual work that are being looked at to avoid abuses. Temporary employment is not increasing. We have to look at - and we have a lot of work done on this - the new forms of employment. These are people who are working, for example, for platforms delivery of food by bike or the Uber drivers. This platform economy is a new form of employment and we have to look at how they are evolving. There are positive elements but there are also elements that are not so positive.

We do some global comparisons but not a lot. Our main mandate is to produce reports that are similar to those the committee has seen - a comparison of 28 member states. Sometimes, in the counting of countries we go outside the EU in a few projects and we compare globally. We are about to publish, with the International Labour Organization, a report on the publication of working conditions across the world. We will not include the countries the members mentioned such as Canada or Australia because we do not have the data on them, but we will have information from the US, South Korea and other regions. In a globalised world, this is important because we do not want the world to be competing on the basis of lowering conditions.

A point was made on ownership of houses. I come from a country where traditionally the majority of people also like to own their apartments - not so much houses because we live mainly in apartments in cities. I was told by a colleague, who is an expert, that the ownership of houses and apartments in Ireland has declined significantly in recent years. I do not know is this is linked with affordability or if it is due to foreign populations coming to Ireland who do not want to buy because they may not intend to stay permanently.

Reference was made to migration, tensions and the history of Ireland. This may play a role. I come from a region with a long history of migration to America first and then to more developed countries in Europe. It is not, however, giving the full picture. Italy was an immigration country and the tensions there are very high at the moment. It is probably a combination of factors but it is certainly good here, and even if it is observed, it is good to observe why it is so good in Ireland and what can we do to keep it that way.

With regard to volunteering, I believe that we have to separate the requests among the sports. We talk here about volunteering but I am not 100% sure we can give a reply or if the GAA activities would be included