Pay and conditions to come under union spotlight
Opinion: Conference season opens for public service unions
‘Eoin Ronayne CPSU General Secretary described 2013 as the most difficult year not only in the history of his organisation but of the public service trade union movement generally. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
In the foreword to his annual report, the general secretary of the Civil Public and Services Union (CPSU), Eoin Ronayne describes 2013 as the most difficult year not only in the history of his organisation but of the public service trade union movement generally.
It was the year in which the Government came back for a third time to seek cuts in the terms and conditions of public service employees.
It was holding in reserve a big stick in the shape of emergency legislation which would impose even harsher measures if a deal was not agreed.
In the fallout, the broad movement of public service unions – representing about 300,000 State employees ranging from civil servants to nurses, teachers, doctors and local authority and health service personnel – came very close to fracturing.
Now 12 months on, the public service trade unions are embarking on their first conference season since the signing of the Haddington Road deal last summer.
There are first hints that they are preparing to seek to regain some of the ground they have lost during more than five years of austerity.
Jack O’Connor, the president of Siptu (the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union), the country’s largest union, said at the weekend that, depending on economic growth, it would look for a new agreement with the Government aimed at improving pay and conditions before the scheduled expiry date of the Haddington Road agreement in the middle of 2016.
Separately the trade union movement has begun a process to look at its own structures which could result in a dramatic rationalisation in the number of individual staff representatives bodies.
Ronayne in his annual report says that, arising out of the experience in the Croke Park two/Haddington Road process, there is a general acceptance the nature and structure of the public service trade union movement left a lot to be desired.
“Essentially representatives of 19 separate unions, representing just under 300,000 public service workers, worked with and against each other while negotiating with a considerably more unified employer side led by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform,” he states.
Break-ups and mergers
Last summer, the overall umbrella organisation, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, at its biennial conference backed radical reform plans for the movement which could ultimately see existing unions breaking up and merging.
Ultimately, the current structure of more than 40 private and public sector unions affiliated to congress could be slimmed down to just six under the proposals.
In the public service, talks on future organisational structures started in recent weeks between the CPSU, the Public Service Executive Union, Impact, the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants and the Veterinary Officers’ Association.
This issue is expected to be discussed at all the main public service union conferences which get under way today when delegates arrive in Galway for the annual meeting of the 13,000-strong CPSU which represents lower-paid civil servants.