1.8 MILLION WORKERS EXPECTED TO REPAY 35bn EUROS – GETTING NOTHING IN RETURN

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One demonstrator’s opinion of the coalition parties
One demonstrator’s opinion of the coalition parties

IRISH Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) Chief Economist Paul Sweeney has told a high level global economic summit involving the IMF, World Bank and international trade union federations that Europe must make good on its June 2012 promise to separate Ireland’s private and bank debt, if the country is to have hope of recovery.

Speaking in Washington DC at the high-level summit involving the IMF, the World Bank and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Sweeney said: ‘It is vital that Irish sovereign and public debts are separated and Europe assists Ireland on its socialised (bank) debt.

‘We are being punished for having been the first in dealing with our failed banks and for the foolishness of the (then) government which guaranteed all the creditors, as well as the depositors.

‘Without a significant deal on our massive bank debt burden, there is little chance of economic recovery in the near future,’ he said.

Sweeney cited recent Eurostat figures that showed Ireland has paid more for the bank crisis than any other EU state.

He said: ‘So far, the bank bailout has cost us 41 billion euros, while Germany – with an economy almost 20 times our size – has paid 40 billion euros. We have also paid more than the UK, France, Portugal and Spain.

‘There is little or no recovery after five years of austerity in Ireland, especially when judged by the key factor of unemployment.’

Describing the recent promissory note deal as a step forward, Sweeney told his audience – which included senior IMF officials dealing with Ireland – that it was a deal ‘that should never have had to been done and should not have totally protected the private creditors of the two dead banks (Anglo Irish and Irish Nationwide).

‘There should have been burden-sharing by those who were stupid enough to lend to these banks,’ he insisted.

Sweeney said 1.8 million at work in Ireland were still expected to repay over 35bn euros, albeit over a longer timeframe.

‘For this we will get absolutely nothing in return – not one school building, not one teacher or hospital bed. Such a deal may satisfy the European Central Bank and the EU, but it undermines democracy,’ he warned.

Sweeney told delegates that an EU-wide stimulus programme would be necessary to start recovery – something the IMF also appeared to favour.

He added: ‘A stimulus in Europe would work every effectively in reducing its vast unemployment rate of 26.06 million.

‘However, the lack of interest shown by European officialdom in such a programme threatens the very institutions of the EU, if not the European project itself.’

Meanwhile government negotiators at talks on the corporatist Croke Park Agreement have rejected union claims that they have targeted frontline workers disproportionately for cuts in earnings.

On Monday the 24/7 Frontline Alliance, which represents around 70,000 nurses, gardaí, prison officers and emergency staff, held a national rally to protest against the proposed reductions in premium payments and overtime.

The alliance says the cuts will hit them more than other public servants who work 9am-5pm.

However, management sources said the talks over the past five weeks had involved comprehensive proposals encompassing all sectors and all grades.

They said that among the issues under discussion were headcount reductions, increments, longer working hours and pay cuts for higher grades across all parts of the public service.

They welcomed the fact that all unions affliated to ICTU were continuing to engage in the talks.

The Frontline Alliance says cutting overtime and premium payments would hit employees who work 24/7 rosters particularly hard, as they account for a significant part of their earnings.

It held a rally at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght on Monday evening to oppose any further cuts in emergency services earnings.

Unions will also be pushing for concessions on pensions, outsourcing and lower-paid workers.

Meanwhile, talks aimed at securing an agreement on extending the Croke Park Agreement were due to resume on Monday.

The government has set a deadline of 28 February to conclude a deal with public service unions on cuts.

If a deal is not done by consent, the government has threatened to legislate for pay cuts.

Measures on the table include pay cuts for the higher paid, reductions in overtime, weekend and evening premiums and longer working hours for no extra pay.

Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) General Secretary Liam Doran said that so far management’s approach to Croke Park negotiations has disproportionately focused on cuts that would impact frontline workers.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland Doran said that the INMO Executive will meet today, but he believes it will remain in the talks process.

Doran said that it is willing to negotiate, but said that proposals have to be fair, and that so far this has not been the case.

As well, the union representing lower-paid civil servants has warned that forcing them to work additional hours would be fraught with difficulty.

Speaking after meeting government negotiators at the Croke Park talks, the General Secretary of the Civil Public and Service Union (CPSU), Eoin Ronayne, said Monday’s talks had focussed on how additional working hours sought by the government would impact on overtime.

However, Ronayne warned that any measures that resulted in additional cost would be a ‘no-no’ for his members.

He said many members had opted for shorter working hours.

However, additional hours could mean they would face additional costs for childcare or other caring arrangements.

He said people work because they have flexibility, but if that flexibility was going to be changed by this talks process, they would have great difficulties.

He added that if there were additional costs, that would be effectively a pay cut for members.

He said they were awaiting further details of the implications of the management proposals.

l Despite declaring significant profits Boots insists long serving staff must pay for their colleagues’ pay increase.

Boots staff last week sought an unconditional pay increase from their employer, however, despite recently announcing profits in excess of 18 million euros the company still insists that any pay increase which it claims it is prepared to pay to staff who are on a new pay scale agreed in 2009, must be paid for by their colleagues who remained on the old pay scale which had been agreed with the company under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission in 2009.

The company have attempted to disguise its actions under what it describes as a ‘pay alignment initiative’, which requires staff earning more than 12 euros per hour to reduce their rate of pay to that amount resulting in employees suffering reductions in pay of anything between three cents per hour to over two euros per hour.

Although the company informed staff that their decision was ‘voluntary’, it clearly stated that staff refusing to change would lose their entitlement to all bonuses.

Even though the company received an almost 100 per cent rejection of its ‘pay alignment initiative’, it continues to make it the precondition to the payment of any pay increase.

Following a meeting of the Boots National Negotiating Committee in January 2013 it was decided to refer the claim to the Labour Relations Commission for a conciliation conference in accordance with the company/union procedural agreement.

Mandate trade union Divisional Organiser Brendan O’ Hanlon expressed his disappointment at the company’s stance in what he described as ‘a deliberate move by the company to divide the staff and pitch worker against worker despite the fact that all employees of the company had made massive contribution to the company’s continued success’.

However, he went on to say that ‘the National Negotiating Team had made a strategic decision with regard to communicating to all Boots employees to ensure that the staff of Boots realise the importance of remaining unified and not to allow their employer create this divisive situation’.

As part of the communication process all existing members were written to individually to update them on developments, as well as individual text messages and store circulars, an exercise which Industrial Officer Jonathan Hogan explained emphasised the need for members to ensure that their union had members up to date contact details.