Irish Trade Unions Split Over Croke Park

TEEU banner on the 100,000-strong march in Dublin on February 9th against paying for the crisis of the banks
TEEU banner on the 100,000-strong march in Dublin on February 9th against paying for the crisis of the banks

THE Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and the Civil, Public and Services Union have decided they will urge members to reject the Croke Park agreement.

There are now five unions recommending a ‘No’ vote. The others are the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) and the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants.

However, the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ sides are neck-and-neck, as both sides hold a 25pc share of the total public service union vote.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said that the proposals were ‘hostile’ to female workers and rolled back family friendly measures negotiated over two decades.

It claimed the proposals were disproportionate as a nurse on 35,000 euros a year would lose up to 8% pay, while an officer staff on 100,000 euros would lose 6%.

IFUT, which is also urging members to vote ‘No’, said private sector workers earning over 65,000 euros should also be asked to contribute through a ‘fair and progressive taxation system’.

Two public sector unions representing over 73,500 public servants have urged their members to back the new Croke Park deal.

The largest public sector union IMPACT, which has 63,500 members, was the first to overwhelmingly recommend a ‘Yes’ vote.

It was followed shortly afterwards by the Public Service Executive Union, which represents 10,000 mid-ranking civil servants.

IMPACT general secretary Shay Cody said his union’s task was to minimise the effects of cuts on members and services, as the government was ‘determined’ to get the saving by agreement or legislation.

‘By negotiating, IMPACT and other unions have succeeded in reducing the severity of management proposals in every important area, and it is likely that deeper cuts will be imposed if this package is rejected,’ he warned.

The union will begin balloting members next month, and a result will be announced in April.

The Central Executive Committee of IMPACT, Ireland’s largest public service union, last Thursday overwhelmingly recommended that its members accept proposals for an extension to the Croke Park agreement.

It said in a statement: ‘The package will result in loss of income for a proportion of public servants, and changes in conditions for many more.

‘But faced with management’s determination to make one billion euros additional cuts to the pay bill – by agreement or by legislation – our task is to minimise the adverse effects on our members and the services they provide.

‘By negotiating, IMPACT and other unions have succeeded in reducing the severity of management proposals in every important area, and it is likely that deeper cuts will be imposed if this package is rejected,’ it said.

IMPACT secretary Shay Cody said the union would commence balloting in the last week in March and conclude the voting in mid-April.

‘This is a detailed and wide-ranging package and we will be spending the coming weeks explaining its contents and responding to members’ questions about what it means for them.

‘It’s crucial that people fully understand the package, and the alternatives, before they cast their votes,’ he said.

IMPACT says unions who negotiated last weekend reduced the severity of management proposals in every important respect. Management did not withdraw any of its proposals, but uinstead made minir concessions.

These include:

• The commitment to no compulsory redundancies remains, despite management’s desire to allow compulsory redundancies in some circumstances.

• The package contains measures that will eliminate the ‘two-tier’ workforce introduced when the previous Government imposed an additional 10% cut in pay scales for new entrants.

• On working time, unions successfully moved management from its position that all public servants should work an additional five hours a week regardless of their current working hours.

• On increments, unions successfully moved management from its position, which was that all increments should be frozen until the end of 2016.

• On premium payments, unions moved management from its position, which was that payment for working Sundays should be reduced from double time to time and a half, and that premiums for Saturday working should be abolished outright.

• Overtime payments, which management wanted to abolish, have also been preserved in a reduced form.

• On flexitime, unions were able to modify the management position on the grades to retain the facility.

• Although unions have not accepted Government plans to cut so-called ‘higher pay’, the negotiations resulted in less severe cuts, a higher threshold at which cuts are imposed, and a form of implementation that means pay can be restored in time for those who earn less than 100,000 euros a year.

• The proposals will also see a small restoration of pension levy reductions for all public servants.

SIPTU members, meanwhile, attended a protest outside the City of Dublin Youth Services Board (CDYSB) office, Morehampton Road, on Friday at 10.00 a.m. to demand the reversal of cuts imposed on youth projects in the city.

The CDYSB imposed cuts, amounting to 600,000 euros, targetting youth projects in Ballyfermot, Ballymun, Coolock/Darndale, Finglas, the North East and the North West Inner City. The cuts vary from 2% to 11% in the budgets of the projects targeted.

SIPTU Organiser, Karen Smollen, said: ‘Projects have been given until Friday, 1st March, to implement these draconian cuts. These cuts will result in job losses and the ending of courses that are being provided to vulnerable communities.

‘There could be up to 70 youth projects and potentially up to 200 youth clubs and groups affected by this cut in funding. These cuts will once again see working class communities in the city hit the hardest.’

Ashling Golden, a youth worker in the SWAN youth centre, Dublin 1, said: ‘Youth services provide a vital safety net for vulnerable young people in many communities.

‘These cuts will lead to a reduction in the numbers of professional staff in the service, which will result in some projects closing and a reduction in the effectiveness of others.

‘These cuts are an attack on the future of communities that are already suffering the worst consequences of the economic recession.’

SIPTU is to decide shortly whether it supports the new Croke Park deal or not.

• Firefighters and prison officers have concluded deals with the government which will protect their premium payments.

However, groups such as gardaí, nurses and doctors continue to face cuts to Sunday premium rates and the abolition of ‘twilight’ payments under the proposed new Croke Park agreement.

The government also confirmed Friday that public service staff who retired by August 2014 would have their pensions and retirement lump sums based on their current salaries and that they would not be affected by pay cuts under the proposed new agreement.

Separately in a U-turn the Department of Health signalled that highly paid contractors working in the health service would after all face cuts in pay in the event of the proposed new deal being ratified.

Details of the deal reached between the government and firefighters emerged in a letter sent by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to trade unions.

The letter said: ‘In the context of the ongoing reform process in the full-time fire service, which will generate significant savings, the totality of the pay structure in respect of full-time firefighters will not be affected by the proposals in this agreement.

‘However, this does not apply to the additional voluntary hours worked outside the rostered commitment. In such circumstances, the overtime rates that apply on a national basis in the sector will apply to full-time firefighters and the commitment in the agreement in respect of one unpaid overtime hour per week will also apply to full-time fire-fighters in respect of voluntary hours only.’

Later it emerged that the Prison Officers Association had reached a deal with prison service management which will allow its members to retain existing premium payments with savings being made elsewhere within the prison budget.’

The Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton has denied workers whose unions left the Croke Park talks are being punished.