President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, has called on trade unions to lead workplace and social change in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic in a speech to the SIPTU Biennial Delegate Conference today (Tuesday, 29th March). President Higgins said; “The pandemic has prompted a profound reassessment of how we work, where we work, even why we work, all of which has to come out of negotiation and in the design of which there must be a lead role for trade unions and their membership.” In a wide-ranging speech, President Higgins also highlighted the role of the trade union movement in combating sectarian division, dealing with humanitarian tragedies such as the unfolding Ukrainian refugee crisis and in tackling growing inequality. He said: “Rising consumer price inflation, driven primarily by rapidly increasing energy prices, which itself drives price increases in other goods, is resulting in the cost of living soaring while wages for many remain stagnant or declining in real terms.   “Low-paid, temporary and insecure jobs have created a new poverty trap, one made all the more difficult to escape in the aftermath of the pandemic. There is a danger that an ‘any-job-will-do’ mantra may dictate welfare and enterprise policy as countries struggle to cope with the political, economic and social pressures that the pandemic is likely to bring in its wake.” The President said unions must play a crucial role in countering such negative developments saying “the pandemic has the potential to usher in a new era for workers’ rights”.  He added: “This could include advancing crucial policy agendas, such as a move to achieving support for universal basic services and an appropriate living wage, the need for access to an occupational pension, the right to disconnect from work, the right to seek remote working arrangements, new legislation for statutory sick pay arrangements, and, perhaps most importantly, a new approach to collective bargaining and industrial relations giving greater power to trade unions.” Speech by President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins