President Michael D Higgins has criticised the proposed European policy to enhance worker protection, because it does not include a social, economic and cultural rights perspective.

The so-called Social Pillar promoted by EU President Jean Claude Juncker, involves a recognition by EU heads of state of their role in protecting workers and shaping their country's welfare policies.

It will deal with issues including cohesion, up-skilling, and reducing inequality and poverty.

However, opening the Irish Congress of Trade Unions conference in Belfast, President Higgins said the initiative would be more effective if it incorporated a social economic and cultural rights perspective.

He told delegates that up to now, such an inclusion had been resisted by the EU Council of Ministers and those who advise them.

He said Mr Juncker had described the potential success of the Social Pillar initiative as requiring a "triple A rating" - but described this as an "unfortunate use of language".

He said that phrase would resonate with all those who remembered the dishonesty and the fraud associated with such a phrase and which had visited such devastation on so many people in so many countries.

The President also called for tax derived from employment based on State-funded skills and education to be "recycled" to create the capacity for universal education involving ever more high class skills.

He said that if that did not happen, then they were speaking of an intellectual subsidy to other economies.

He stressed that this was a "speculative opinion" of his own. 

President Higgins also said the trade union movement would be crucial in restoring what had been called the entrepreneurial state in partnership with private investment and civil society.

He was applauded when he said the days of making the case in the media for the minimal state were over.

He said the idea that the State was a fall-back position for the banking sector or that the State should reduce its intervention to save its citizens must be recognised as something that could not be afforded in present or future circumstances.

He warned that concentration of media ownership serves those who hold unaccountable power.

He said it was used to prevent workers from knowing the basis for policy choices that affect their lives.

Earlier, ICTU general secretary Patricia King warned that tens of thousands of jobs stand to be lost if there is a hard Brexit.

She said Brexit should not be used as a pretext to dismantle hard won workers' rights and protections.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Ms King said the Government needs to immediately fund and direct local authorities to increase their provision of social housing and said the housing "emergency" is a major issue for working people and their families.