Public unions to resist reform plans in first phase of unrest

Thu, Jan 14, 2010, 00:00

TRADE UNIONS are planning to withhold co-operation from reforms or change programmes in the public sector and for members to work only to the terms of their contract in the initial phase of a campaign of industrial action in protest at pay cuts.

The unions are considering selective strike action in parts of the public service as a possible follow-up initiative.

The public services committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) met yesterday to consider its campaign against cuts.

As reported in The Irish Timesyesterday, some unions have begun serving formal notice of industrial action on the Government to come into effect in some cases from next week and in others from Monday, January 25th.

It is understood that the unions are looking at the possibility of paying enhanced strike pay for workers involved in any of the selective actions proposed. Sources said this could involve the funding being drawn from existing union resources or by introducing a solidarity levy for other staff. However, sources said that no decisions had yet been taken.

Meanwhile, one trade union leader has forecast that there will be extensive strike action in the public service in protest at the pay cuts.

Speaking before the meeting of the Ictu public services committee, Blair Horan of the CPSU, which represents lower-paid civil servants, said there was a strong determination among his members to fight the cuts.

He forecast that there would be a gradual build-up of industrial action over the next couple of weeks but that February would see the start of “a pretty extensive campaign of action”.

“When we have lost 12 per cent in pay and the Government has decided that the bulk of the adjustment would fall on public servants, they are not going to take that lying down.

“Low-level industrial action is not going to persuade the Government to change course. It will take more extensive strike action. But that will happen in my view,” he said.

The CPSU has warned the Department of Finance that its members in Government departments and in non-commercial State agencies would begin industrial action from Tuesday, January 19th.

Mike Jennings of the Irish Federation of University Teachers said yesterday that, assuming members provided a mandate, the union would refuse to co-operate with the embargo on recruitment and promotion in place in universities.

“I think that is going to cause huge difficulties for staff, for students and the universities. The Government just can’t expect to run a full university system with a dramatically reduced staff.”

He also indicated that the union was looking at a ban on some administrative duties.

“There has been an endless supply of additional tasks assigned to academics over the last number of years as part of national agreements. National agreements have now been thrown out the window by the Government and we will be throwing out those tasks as well,” he said.

The move by trade unions to begin serving formal notice of industrial action on the Government was criticised yesterday by the business group Chambers Ireland.

Chambers Ireland chief executive Ian Talbot said that industrial action would be of no benefit to “our already challenged economy”.