24/7 Alliance Is Fighting Pay And Public Service Cuts

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Firefighters with their banner on the 125.000-strong demonstration in Dublin on February 21st against government cuts to jobs and wages
Firefighters with their banner on the 125.000-strong demonstration in Dublin on February 21st against government cuts to jobs and wages

THE 24/7 Alliance launched a DVD yesterday morning in Dublin to argue its case against further cutbacks in pay, operational conditions and services to the public.

The Alliance also reported on the overwhelming support for the first phase of its campaign ‘Taking the Risks – Paying Our Share’ which comes to an end this week with meetings in Kilkenny and Dublin.

In Kilkenny – although the PDFORRA armed foprces organisation will not be participating formally in the meetings following a direction from the Department of Defence – a letter to the Alliance will be read by its General Secretary, Gerry Rooney, and a significant number of individual members of the Permanent Defence Forces are expected to attend the meeting in the Hotel Kilkenny at 8.15pm.

It will also be addressed by a former member of the PDFORRA executive.

The venue of the Dublin meeting has been changed to The Helix because the original venue at the Green Isle is no longer expected to be large enough to accommodate the numbers expected.

The overwhelming response of Frontline Alliance personnel to regional meetings in Sligo and Cork indicates a similar turnout in the capital tonight.

The Alliance represents frontline staff in the Health Services, in Law Enforcement and in the Local Authorities such as nurses, gardai, firefighters, ambulance drivers and prison officers who provide essential services to the public, frequently at significant risk to themselves.

The unions and staff associations comprising the 24/7 Alliance are: AGSI, GRA, INO, PNA, POA and SIPTU. An empty chair is being reserved at all meetings for PDFORRA.

Meanwhile, SIPTU is seeking an urgent meeting with the head of the Health Services Executive Employers Agency, Sean McGrath, as it begins balloting members for industrial action in pursuit of the 3.5 per cent part increase due under the first phase of the Transitional Agreement since September 1st.

The union’s Health Services Sectoral Organiser Paul Bell served the claim on behalf of over 34,000 members in state funded hospitals and institutions throughout the Republic two weeks ago.

‘The HSEEA seemed surprised at our claim’, Mr Bell said yesterday. ‘However, they have continually pursued implementation of the modernisation and flexibility clauses of the agreement with us over the past year.

‘They do not seem to realise that they cannot unilaterally suspend one element of the agreement while securing our co-operation on non-pay elements.

‘I think they expected us to kick for touch on this one and just refer it on to the Labour Relations Commission or Labour Court, but we need to establish if they are going to honour the agreement up front, or an acceptable alternative.

‘If not, then we will have a mandate for industrial action.’

Bell confirmed that the ballot currently underway would be in place in time for the national campaign by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and SIPTU from November 6th onwards.

‘As far as we are concerned we have an agreement and the pay element is now over a month overdue and must be implemented without delay.

‘Our members have already endured the implementation of pension, health and employment levies that reduced their salary by between five and eight percent.

‘Over the past few weeks there has been constant speculation over comments by the Taoiseach and other members of the Cabinet that further pay cuts could be back on the agenda for the public services in the December Budget.

‘We are sending a clear message to the HSEEA and the Government that SIPTU members in the health services will not tolerate further cuts while the banks and better elements in our society are pampered.’

l The SIPTU general president, Jack O’Connor, has welcomed the clarification by the Labour Court of its settlement recommendations in the seven week strike at Coca Cola HBC Ireland.

He has called on the company ‘to immediately implement the reasonable recommendations of the Labour Court and settle this increasingly bitter dispute.’

He also called on the employers’ group, IBEC, to clarify its position on the dispute and the behaviour of the company, which is one of its leading members.

The strike started after the company outsourced the jobs of 130 SIPTU members in its warehousing and distribution network in Dublin, Tipperary, Cork, Waterford and Galway.

The redundancy packages to staff fell far short of terms agreed previously with SIPTU. Coca Cola HBC refused to discuss an alternative plan put forward by SIPTU representatives which would have retained a significant number of jobs.

Last month, the Court recommended that the company offer workers the same redundancy terms as previously agreed and enter discussions with SIPTU on saving jobs at its new warehouse and distribution plant at Ballycoolin in Dublin.

The company sacked the 130 workers last month in a major escalation of the dispute which has seen pickets placed at depots around the country and a march on the Irish corporate headquarters of Coca Cola in Dublin. (Coca Cola has a 23 per cent stake in the Greek-based Coca Cola Hellenic Bottling Company which distributes the product across Europe).

In response to a request by Coca Cola HBC for a clarification of the recommendation, the Labour Court said, ‘the recommendation on severance terms was in line with a package recently agreed between the Company and the Union’.

It added: ‘the Court did not accept that the redundancies now in issue could properly be characterised as other than compulsory in nature’ and reaffirmed the Court’s view that the talks could save the jobs at the Ballycoolin depot.

Welcoming the clarification, SIPTU General President Jack O’Connor said the Labour Court had offered a fair settlement with the potential to protect a significant number of jobs and a fair redundancy settlement for those losing their jobs.

‘This is a very strong affirmation by the Court of its position. The Court recommended a fair settlement proposal in the seven week strike which has seen 130 union members sacked on minimal, statutory redundancy terms by one of the most profitable companies in the world,’ he said.

‘SIPTU has a long history of good industrial relations with Coca Cola and helped it become the leading Irish brand.

‘The recent behaviour of Coca Cola HBC in sacking workers, refusing to negotiate with their union representatives and ignoring the industrial relations machinery of the State is an unfortunate reversion to failed employment practices of the past. ‘I am calling on Coca Cola HBC to immediately implement the reasonable recommendations of the Labour Court and settle this increasingly bitter dispute.’

Last month, Coca Cola HBC announced a capital return which would directly funnel 548 million euros in cash to its shareholders and declared profits of over 200 million euros for the first half of 2009.

SIPTU has called on employers’ group IBEC to clarify its position on the dispute and the behaviour of the company, which is one of its leading members.

SIPTU is calling on the public to use their influence to settle the dispute by supporting a march on the Coca Cola corporate headquarters in Baggot Street today, October 14th. The march will assemble at Liberty Hall at 12 noon.