Protesters resolute in opposition to new pay cuts
Members of the 24/7 Frontline Services Alliance comprised of workers from five organisations have gathered in Tallaght tonight for a national rally to highlight their opposition to government plans to cut pay. Photograph: Bryan O'Brien/Irish Times
The National Basketball Arena in Tallaght saw a virtually unprecedented outburst of anger from thousands of frontline public service workers tonight at the prospect of further cuts in their earnings.
The 2,500 seats in the auditorium were occupied in full while around 1,000 or more other gardaí, general nurses, psychiatric nurses, prison officers, paramedics and fire service personnel stood in the aisles and doorways.
Their message of the rally organised by the 24/7 alliance was clear. Its members would accept no further pay cuts as proposed by the Government as part of an extension to the Croke Park agreement.
However the anger of those present was not confined to the Government. There was strong criticism of the leaders of the trade union movement who are currently engaged with public service management on the proposed new deal.
The general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation Liam Doran urged those present to act on the energy flowing from the meeting and to begin contacting TDs and senators from when they get home tonight.He said the message should be that if their local politicians ever wanted to be elected again they must support the campaign against the frontline pay cuts.
“We will never forget”, he said.
The meeting was given details of a letter sent by the 24/7 alliance to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin yesterday which said there was no prospect of its constituent organisations concluding an agreement while the current agenda remained on the table.
The meeting also heard warnings of possible industrial action if an equitable solution was not reached.
The president of the Garda Representative Association John Parker confirmed his organisation would commence low-level actions such as not using their personal equipment for official duties.
He warned this action could be increased incrementally.
“The options are vast including the full nuclear option.”
“If you do not want to pay us for Saturday night and cut our allowances, we will not be working on Saturday night”, he said to tremendous applause.
John Kidd of the Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association said if the Government wanted to test the resolve of his members, there would be no emergency cover provided by the fire service in any dispute.
There was also strong criticism of union leaders who are currently involved in the Croke Park talks process with the Government.
Seamus Murphy, the deputy general secretary of the Psychiatric Nurses Association said the Government was reneging on the existing Croke Park agreement – which ran until next year – with the complicity of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
“In 1913 we had a lock out. In 2013, a century later we have a sell out by the movement that is supposed to protect us.”
Speaking earlier today the trade union representing lower-paid civil servants said anything that comes out of the current talks on an extension to the Croke Park agreement that involves people having to endure additional costs will be a “no, no”.
Following talks with public service management this morning the general secretary of the Civil Public and Services Union Eoin Ronayne said it was very difficult to see how progress could be made that his members could live with. However he said an outcome was still too early to call.
Mr Ronayne said talks this morning had centred on management proposals for staff to work additional hours and how this would impact on overtime and on overtime rates.
However he said no detail was provided in concrete terms and that there would be further discussions tomorrow.
He said from his union’s perspective “additional hours are fraught with difficulty”.
“Additional hours will mean our people will face additional costs sometime involving childcare but also in other domestic care arrangements. People work because they have flexibility. If the flexibility is going to be changed then we have great difficulty. There will be increased costs. Increased costs for our members are effectively a pay cut.”
Mr Ronayne said proposals to change existing flexitime working arrangements, which public service management are expected to table as part of the current process, were not considered at the talks.
However he said it was anticipated management would raise the issue of flexitime in due course.
Mr Ronayne said the mood of his members was very clear in that they were not in a position to endure any further impact in terms of costs and loss of pay.
Later in the week, the Government is expected to propose new workplace reform measures including changes to flexitime arrangements and the introduction of greater scope to redeploy personnel.
Earlier, sources close to the current process said the Government wanted to cut overtime rates. These go from time-and-a-quarter to double time. In the education sector, they said the Government wanted a combination of more hours and a reduction in the €125 million paid to teachers in supervision and substitution payments.
Asked whether the Government wanted to abolish all or just some of these payments, one source said: “The vast majority.”
High earners in the education sector – and in other parts of the public service – face a pay cut under Government proposals. There is speculation the threshold could be about €65,000. Sources said the Government wanted a pay cut but unions had suggested a step back on the incremental scale as an alternative. Sources said there was disagreement on plans to freeze or eliminate increments.
The Government has offered to offset savings from any deal to reduce the number of staff on duty on Sundays against the €170 million target.
It is understood the Government believes there are too many staff working on Sundays, particularly in health.
One source said: “Attendance patterns should be determined by service needs but in some places it seems to be driven by staff requirements.”
Unions leaving the talks would run the risk of any alternative roster arrangement being determined by others.
Other sources, however, said that unions had proposed changing existing arrangements for Sunday premium payments in 2001 but management had refused to engage.
It is understood public service management were yesterday considering alternative proposals put forward on Saturday by some unions for premium payments for support staff in the health service. This could involve a fixed payment rather than one linked to pay.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said yesterday an outcome that protects premium payments of some and expects those who do not get them, in particular the lower and middle paid, to carry most of the burden “would be unfair and unacceptable to the Government”.