Public Service Pay Deal - The Battle Lines are Drawn

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Jack O’Connor walked out of the government talks and refused to recommend the deal, saying that:

“From its inception the union was distinguished from its predecessors and contemporaries in trade unionism in Ireland by its militancy in organisation and in industrial action, its extension of membership to all sections of general workers to support other wage earners in weaker strategic positions, its vigour in fighting employers, its recourse to the sympathetic strike on the principle that an injury to one is the concern of all and its proclaiming as tainted goods, unclean and untouchable material in establishments in which its members or fellow workers were on strike or locked out”

Of course this did not happen.  The above quote is taken from Cathal O'Shannon’s book, “Fifty Years of Liberty Hall”.

The majority of public sector trade unionists voted for strike action in the run up to the budget of December last. The leadership took this vote for action and turned it into a justification for protracted negotiations, during which they claimed that the government could make the requisite savings without lowering our wages further, by implementing the “Transformation Agenda” (see Workers Solidarity 114).
 
The Government noted these ideas, kept them for a future date, walked away from the talks, implemented their cuts in wages and then invited the union leaders back into the room for a look at the “Transformation Agenda” again. Quickly the brakes were applied to the work to rule, which was in place to get us back our lost wages, and the new “Croke Park” deal emerged on March 31st.
 
Like all deals, we should not reject it out of hand. Let us calculate all the benefits that accrue to us from this deal:

  • They will not cut our wages again, possibly until 2014, but the Government has previous in terms of walking away from deals when it suits them, while we also live in an era of constant stealth taxes.
  • The promise that if we are on target with the many savings which we will bring about via ‘rationalisation’ and ‘re-structuring’, and if this is passed by the review body (see below) in Spring 2011, the Government will see what they can do in relation to low waged workers, i.e. those earning under €35,000.
  • No compulsory staff redundancies if they (the government) get the outcomes that they want.  So that’s not really a plus.

That concludes the positives. Now for the negatives

  • New pension agreed to start by 2011, which will move people away from defined benefit schemes and towards a defined contribution plan. Effectively we will have agreed to this without seeing any details, thus signing a blank cheque for a Government who’ve already proven where their interests lie.
  • Longer core working hours for many staff, from 8am to 8pm.
  • Reduction in staff numbers.
  • No replacement of staff until the government reduces staff levels to an unknown figure that they have in mind.
  • Complete co-operation with the plans in terms of ‘rationalisation’ and ‘restructuring.’
  • No strikes in terms of pay or working conditions.
  • Independent Review body set up consisting of some members of ICTU, which will oversee this transformation and agree that sufficient progress is being made.
  • Maximise productivity, whatever that means in the context of education, health, and transportation to name but a few.
  • No plans to re-instate wages to pre-cut levels.
  • New contracts agreed to, although amazingly we haven’t seen any details of what these new work contracts will contain

We must reject this deal, which is worse than the status quo. It is so bad that the executives of a number of unions have even gone against their negotiators by recommending rejection of the deal. The union leadership has forgotten how to fight and even those amongst them those who argue for rejecting the deal simply want to get back to the table for further negotiations.
 
When we vote for rejecting this deal we are going back to what we voted for back in October, strike action. Our unions are still ours. It is time to send that message back to both the Dáil and to the top brass in Liberty Hall and ICTU. The transformation we require is to reclaim our unions and that can only be done by us.
 

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