Government should act and ditch Croke Park deal
OPINION:CLAUSE 1.28 of the Croke Park agreement on public service pay and conditions states: “The implementation of this agreement is subject to no currently unforeseen budgetary deterioration.”
Since Christmas 2009, when the agreement was finalised, and June 2010, when it was ratified by a majority of trade unions, there has been unforeseen budgetary deterioration on several fronts. For example, growth projections for the economy have not materialised and the scale of mortgage defaults, personal indebtedness and bank debt – all of which require massive amounts of public money to resolve – has risen to a level not envisaged in 2009.
All multi-year pay agreements contain a 1.28-type clause to permit a firm or the government to plead “inability to pay” in the event of unanticipated downturn in finances.
It is blindingly obvious the Government could reasonably have invoked clause 1.28 long ago and declared its inability to pay.
It represents a fundamental failure to govern when €1 billion is being borrowed every month not just to keep public services ticking over, but to pay annual increments, the most absurd allowances and index-linked pensions to deliver on the Croke Park deal as interpreted by trade unions.
It also represents a failure that, over four years into the crisis, the Government is still in “ongoing discussions” in the Labour Relations Commission to secure mere “flexibility” from medical consultants, with no intention to mention pay cuts. Consultant pay is protected by the Croke Park deal. Apart from the fiscal madness of the agreement, its continuance is having profoundly unfair consequences.
Right across the public service the most vulnerable workers and service-users have taken a disproportionate share of the pain. Newly appointed teachers now start on a salary 28 per cent less than their predecessors, and other cuts in education have hit some of the most disadvantaged students.
Home-help staff, who are not unionised, have lost work hours and the people they serve will be deprived of needed care.
The list of such patently unfair cuts is endless, and there is much worse to come as the Government refuses to consider revisiting the Croke Park deal before 2014.
In this context, where nothing is sacred but the agreement, it is increasingly galling to hear Government reassurances that it is “making every effort in making unavoidable cuts to protect the most vulnerable”.
Equally galling is to hear trade union officials call for “social solidarity” in this time of national crisis. Trade union mantras like “stronger together” , “ni neart go cur le chéile” and so on ring hollow when set against the deal they have cut for existing members at the expense of new employees.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ assertion that a strong union movement is the single most effective way to achieve “greater equality for all in society” has been exposed as bogus and pretentious. “Social solidarity” has come to mean nothing more than “what we have, we hold”, regardless of its impact on new work colleagues – not to mention the people being served or wider society.
Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the 1913 lockout and the trade union movement will take the opportunity to remind us of the heroic struggle of their founding members against injustice. Big Jim Larkin will rightly be remembered for his inspirational leadership in that epic struggle.