COWEN INVITES ICTU TO TALKS – as massive strike action approaches

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SIPTU banners on the 125,000-strong demonstration in Dublin on February 21 against wage cuts and job losses
SIPTU banners on the 125,000-strong demonstration in Dublin on February 21 against wage cuts and job losses

With the March 30 general strike fast approaching Irish Prime Minister Cowen has invited the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) to attend talks.

The General Secretary of Congress, David Begg, welcomed the letter from the Taoiseach proposing talks aimed at achieving an integrated national response to the current recession.

He said he would put the letter before the Executive Council of Congress today.

Last night the Government said that if the talks got under way successfully there would be no basis for Monday’s planned one-day national strike.

It expects that the ICTU will defer the action to allow talks to proceed.

However there will be widespread opposition to any such development from workers who know that the government is not about to change its policy, and see the government talks offer as purely a device to try to undermine the strike.

If the Government invitation is accepted, discussions could get under way by the weekend.

Meanwhile support is pouring in for the action on the March 30.

The Naomh Ciaran 11 Ferry which travels between Baltimore and Cape Clear will be among the employments hit by the ICTU protest.

SIPTU Sectoral Organiser Eddie Mullins said in a statement yesterday, ‘We wish to advise the general public, that our members, employed on the Naomh Ciaran 11, will withdraw their services from 08.00 hrs on Monday March 30th, 2009 and return to work at 17.00 hrs on the same day.

‘This action is being undertaken, as a result of management’s refusal to honour the terms of Towards 2016, Review and Transitional Agreement 2008-2009, and specifically because of management’s stated intention to unilaterally cut salaries by approximately 18 per cent, along with other cuts to contracted terms and conditions.

‘We have tried on a number of occasions to arrange meetings, and to date, we have not even received the courtesy of a reply from the company.

‘We apologise for any inconvenience this action may have on the public.’

SIPTU aviation members are pressing ahead with action at airports on the 30th following the refusal of the Dublin Airport Authority to comply with national agreement.

The Industrial Action Committee of SIPTU’s Dublin Airport Authority Section has unanimously decided to withdraw labour for eight hours on March 30.

In a circular to members yesterday it states that it is taking ‘the following action as a consequence of the Dublin Airport Authority neither agreeing to implement the pay provisions of the Transitional Agreement, nor alternatively agreeing to engage with the Union on the basis of inability to pay the provision as set out in the Transitional Agreement or agree alternative terms.

‘The Dublin Airport Authority’s suggestion to attend the Labour Relations Commission, but not commit to claiming an inability to pay was unanimously rejected by the Committee.

‘All labour will be withdrawn from 0400 to 1200 on Monday, 30th March 2009.’

Meanwhile, Unite has completed the counting of ballots of companies and employers who are refusing to pay the terms of the national wage agreement or to engage with the union on its reasons for not doing so.

As a result of the ballots, notice of strike action has been served by Unite on a number of employers including New Ireland Assurance, Enterprise Ireland, Glaxo Smithkline Beecham, the Health Service Executive, the National Standards Authority of Ireland and Aer Lingus.

‘It was the government and the employer representative groups that walked away from their own agreement,’ said Unite regional secretary Jimmy Kelly.

‘A substantial number of employers themselves have agreed to pay while others are involved in the agreed procedures. Ironically, Maxol, the company of which IBEC (Irish Business and Employers Confederation) President Tom Noonan is chief executive, is compliant. Surely those employers who have done the right thing should be encouraging others to do likewise, not to withdraw.’

Jerry Shanahan, national officer for Unite said: ‘Industrial action of this nature is a last resort and is only being called on those rogue employers who could have, but have failed to implement the national agreement.

‘Many companies are fully compliant and in cases where there are real issues, the employers have engaged with Unite to work through solutions.

‘The day of action was never intended to target them and none of the employees at those companies have been balloted.’

Members of IMPACT, the country’s largest public sector union, have narrowly failed to approve participation in next week’s national strike by the required 66 per cent vote for the action.

The news is a setback to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions campaign of opposition to the Government’s handling of the economy and the refusal of some employers to pay the national wage increases.

Under IMPACT’s rules, a two-thirds majority in a ballot was required to sanction industrial action.

It is understood that while 65% of those balloted approved industrial action, that figure falls short of the 66% majority and is not enough to justify a strike.

A spokesperson for IMPACT however stressed that the vote did not necessarily mean that IMPACT members would not take part in Monday’s strike.

The union’s executive will meet tomorrow to examine the rule requiring the two-thirds majority to see if the executive has any discretion to approve the action.

Then the executive of IMPACT is expected to approve the action.

The national day of action will stop Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports.

SIPTU, which is joining the day of action, represents workers in the airports’ fire, police and security services.

Unions are expected to serve notice of industrial action on behalf of thousands of workers today in protest at the failure of employers to comply with the national wage agreement.

Meanwhile, IBEC Director General Turlough O’Sullivan has urged unions to call off the planned action describing it as ‘entirely inappropriate’.

O’Sullivan, the bosses leader said a new national wage agreement was needed instead to deal with growing unemployment.

In his letter to ICTU General Secretary David Begg, O’Sullivan said employers are extremely concerned by the vacuum in which Ireland finds itself ahead of the budget.

He says IBEC sees some merit in elements of ICTU’s ten-point plan for economic recovery and believes there is a basis for a joint accord on the way forward.

O’Sullivan also warns that if the strike proceeds, the prospects for an accord would be seriously diminished.

Meanwhile, the SR Technics airport maintenance unions have asked for their dispute to be referred as a matter of urgency to the Labour Court.

This follows the failure to make any progress in yesterday’s talks at the Labour Relations Commission.

‘The Labour Relations Commission was put in an impossible position by the company because management refused to budge on its decision to close or make any move to deal with the pension shortfall or improve the redundancy offer’, SIPTU Branch Organiser Pat Ward said.

‘In view of the rapidly approaching deadline for almost half the workforce to be let go we have asked the Labour Court to prioritise the case.’

Some 600 of the 1,350 employees are to be let go in lieu of notice on April 3rd.

Another 100 are expected to follow two weeks later with the rest progressively laid off by August 31.

Mr Ward said there was still no word from the IDA government investment agency or Enterprise Ireland about a short list of bidders for the facility.

‘However we do expect it later this week and will be pressing them for it if it is not forthcoming by then’, he said.