Mid-rank civil servants fear amalgamated unions would be swamped

‘Super union’ of PSEU, CPSU and Impact would have 80,000 members in public service

Under  current proposals, the PSEU and the CPSU, which both have about 10,000 members - largely in the Civil Service - would join together with Impact, which has about 60,000 members across the wider public service. File photograph: iStockPhoto

Under current proposals, the PSEU and the CPSU, which both have about 10,000 members - largely in the Civil Service - would join together with Impact, which has about 60,000 members across the wider public service. File photograph: iStockPhoto

 

Mid-ranking civil servants have expressed concerns at plans to amalgamate three existing trade unions into one organisation which would represent more than 80,000 staff across the public service.

Under current plans, members of the the Public Service Executive Union (PSEU), the Civil Public and Services Union (CPSU) and Impact will vote later in the year on final proposals for a merger.

Advocates claim the new “super union” would be in a stronger position to oppose any move by Government to disimprove the terms and conditions of members in future.

However, critics contend the smaller unions would be swamped in a larger organisations, and members would not receive the same level of service.

PSEU general secretary Tom Geraghty told his union’s annual conference in Galway that while he was not delivering a sales pitch for the proposed amalgamation, he began thinking of the need for unions to reform the way they did their business in the aftermath of the imposition of public service pay cuts in 2009.

‘Reneged on proposed deal’

“The worst experience I ever had in my professional life was that awful night when the late Brian Lenihan kicked us out of Government Buildings and the government reneged on a proposed deal and within a few days imposed pay cuts,” he said.

“I know that was extremely upsetting for a lot of members, but let me tell you, nobody was as enraged as I was personally at the time. In my own head I vowed we should never allow ourselves to be in that position ever again.

“Part of the problem, quite frankly, was that the rage was not just directed at a government that had broken its word. Our own behaviour, with 20 different unions, in the lead up to that - where we could scarcely agree on when to break for coffee - didn’t help.”

Mr Geraghty said the leadership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions subsequently commissioned a report which was damning in its criticism of the fragmented nature of the trade union movement.

He said under the current proposals, the PSEU and the CPSU, which both have about 10,000 members - largely in the Civil Service - would join together with Impact, which has about 60,000 members across the wider public service.

Combined fund

He said the new union would have a combined contingency fund of €50 million to cover disputes and legal cases and other assets of €35 million.

Mr Geraghty said existing PSEU members would continue to pay subscriptions of 0.62 per cent of salary, although for new members this would increase to 0.8 per cent, subject to a maximum of €370 per year.

He said a financial review of the three existing unions would be completed in a couple of weeks but no issues of concern had been flagged.

Mr Geraghty said that under the plans, members could review the operation of the proposed new union up to 2024.

However, delegates at the PSEU conference voiced their concern at the amalgamation plans.

Paula Fitzpatrick of the Property Registration Authority said there should be a single union for civil servants, but expressed concerns that “we are going too big, too fast” with plans to expand the proposed new organisation to represent staff in the broader public service.

Martin Kehoe of the Department of Social Protection said the amalgamation project was “ a total load of rubbish” and should not start at all.

He feared that under the proposals, in the future members would have to go through three or four layers before they could get to a conference to get their voice heard.

‘A little voice’

“Impact will not care about the issues that we have. They have their own agenda. We will be a little voice in the corner.”

Fran Ryan of the Revenue branch said he had been a member and officer in the trade union Impact previously.

“I have seen Impact from the inside and I do not like it.”

He said the amalgamation plan was “a vanity project”.

John O’Donovan of the Revenue branch in Cork expressed concern that as Impact had 60,000 members, the power of those in the PSEU would be diluted.

He feared that Impact would want available Government resources directed towards health and local government, where it had more members.