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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: November 9, 2009 @ 12:02 pm

    Unions losing traction?

    Harry McGee

    Was it just me or have comments from the various unions and ICTU over the past 24 hours suggest that they are now prepared to seek a deal rather than return to the streets, because they are worried that their mass protests will be shorn of the mass bit?

    There was a debate about the numbers turning out to protest last Friday and how many of them were drawn from the private sector. No matter how the figures are finessed and talked up, to me there seems to be a recognition (and I’d say even among the union leadership) that the turnout was poor and that further protests in November and December will produce diminishing returns. All it will go to show is that the public (and private sector workers) aren’t with them on this, and that the Government has called their bluff.

    Just to continue the poker metaphor. The situation is so bleak for everybody and so unfair for everybody that it reminds me of the words from a great Tom Waits song, On the Nickel.

    “I know a place where a Royal Flush, will never beat a pair.”

    The Government’ won’t and can’t turn back on its promise on th pay bill. If it does so it is finished. So it’s intent on implementing the cuts no matter what. There’s none of that conflict of old when the bean counters from Finance were trumped by the social partnership champions in the Department of An Taoiseach. Two different Brians but not two different lines apparently. They are both ad idem on the need to cut deep.

    So compromise is the name of the game. The rather grand sounding ‘bridging mechanisms’ are being discussed today. In plainer English, that mean a temporary fix. In other words, the Government will get its €1.3 billion in this Budget either by cuts in basic pay rates, or overtime and allowances, or both. And at the same time a longer term review programme will be initiated that will see a combination of measures including reductions in numbers and changes in work practices and productivity. But the point will be that it will only replace the temporary fix in Budget 2011 and in later Budget.

    And not totally. If the Government wants to cut €4 billion next year, and €3 billion the next year , and €2 billion the next, then it’s going to have to continue gouging at the margins. So the €1.3 billion is not going to be wholly whittled away or replaced by other measures.

    It’s going to be dressed up as something else. But my sense is that compromise with a big C is the name of the game for the public sector unions.

    • Eoin says:

      Can I also suggest that turnout was lower because many union members and workers are disillusioned with partnership as a process and that there’s no appetite for this among the union leaders?

    • disgruntledcitizen says:

      Can I just say even within unions there is not a level playing field. Department of Finance staff are paid more than regular civil servants. Senior management have offsite meetings in posh hotels, some people spend half their time out of the office earning expenses while others receive a basic salary. It is all of the extras and not basic pay which need to be addressed. TD’s should not get an allowance for attending in Dublin, they knew what they signed up for when they ran for election. Is €100,000 not enough for them?

    • Dave says:

      Surely if workers were disillusioned with partnership they’d be more likely to protest?

    • Eoin says:

      Dave, what I mean is that the disillusionment is with the leadership who insist on believing that partnership is still a viable option after the mistakes of the second round of benchmarking.

    • If you check out the amount of hours lots to industrial disputes: http://www.statusireland.com/statistics/finacial-statistics-for-ireland/34/Industrial-Disputes-By-Year.html

      and compare this year (to date) with those figures of the past then it is clear enough that the appetite for a strike is not there. Even looking at the amount of people involved compared to the amount of days lost you can see that people are not interested at all in losing many days. People know that the blame for this mess essential lies with themselves. We all had a party, we voted these people in, we let them away with it. A little hoo-ha about how bad things are is really only a finger-pointing exercise and we are firmly pointing the finger at ourselves. Nobody likes to do that.
      People are of the mentality that working hard is the way to get through the next few years. We are actually good at that.

    • Ray D says:

      Mass protests and strikes are a nonsense and just cost low-paid workers money in lost wages. Far better to do the ESB thing. Take out the few crucial workers that would bring the country to its knees at little cost to union members.

      The need for public pay-cuts is not proven or necessary in any event but is a reckless step – like the reckless steps already taken this year and last by this Government. Five to seven billion or more could be readily saved in the Budget without any pay cuts at all and without any damaging effects for our economy.

    • Ray D says:

      There was no second round of benchmarking. The Government refused to pay out the recommended payments to the grades concerned. These grades were hardest hit by the Government slashing of pay at the higher echelons in the public sector.

    • Liam says:

      Ray D “The need for public pay-cuts is not proven or necessary in any event but is a reckless step”
      Huh? Ideally salaries here both public and private should be trading at or below the UK average and not matching or surpassing German levels. Any attempt to keep salaries above market rates will be a direct trade off with unemployment.
      I would have thought borrowing half a billion a week would be fairly reasonable confirmation that gov. spending is out of control.

    • Eoin says:

      Ray D, fair enough but there was all of the optics and a technical award to the higher grades which structured an inequality into the public service, e.g. professors and university heads pulling away from middle management.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Eoin, “e.g. professors and university heads pulling away from middle management.” I think middle management pulled away significantly from the lower ranks too.

    • Ray D says:

      So we benchmark with the UK and Germany then. Really.

      The point is that there are much better ways of closing the Government-created gap between revenue and expenditure than cutting pay, which only exacerbates, prolongs and deepens the recession.

    • m jackson says:

      The tax payer pays the public sector .They do not seem to understand by going on strike and spending there money in northern Ireland they are giving money to the northern tax payer leaving us short of that much needed money to run our economy and they say no to pay cuts.We need a strong economy again so I am afraid they must take the pain like the rest of us .

    • m jackson says:

      The tax payer pays the public sector salary .Do you not think by striking and shopping in Northern Ireland and giving your money to the northern tax man We cannot afford the luxury of having the best paid civil servants in the world .Remember when the celtic tiger roared your union leaders milked it for as much as they could get.

    • m jackson says:

      The tax payer pay the public sector wages When you went on strike and went shopping in the NORTH you took money out of this economy .Money we need to pay you I am sorry we cannot afford the best paid civil servants in the world Remember when Ireland roared your union leaders milked Ireland

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