CWU hosts its trip to Killarney

Minister for  Energy   Pat Rabbitte: didn’t make the long march to Killarney this week for the bi-annual meeting of the Communications Workers’ Union. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte: didn’t make the long march to Killarney this week for the bi-annual meeting of the Communications Workers’ Union. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Ministers generally get hell when they address union conferences – just ask Ruairí Quinn, whose ears are still ringing from those loudhailer-toting teachers last month.

Even so, it was curious that Pat Rabbitte, the Communications Minister, didn’t make the long march to Killarney this week for the bi-annual meeting of the Communications Workers’ Union (CWU), one of the most powerful in the State with 17,000 members in companies including Eircom and An Post.

Steve Fitzpatrick, the CWU’s general secretary, says the last minister invited down was Alan Dukes, who briefly held the communications portfolio during the 1990s rainbow coalition.

If only his speeches were so brief.

“He kept us waiting for an hour and a half before the dinner, and then he spoke for another hour and a half. It was a disaster,” said Fitzpatrick.

Rabbitte likes to talk too, so maybe it’s just as well.

The CWU put a shot across the bows of employers this week when its president, Cormac O’Dalaigh, said it would pursue a 6 per cent pay claim for all members, an indicator of economic recovery if ever there was one.

The CWU, which worked closely with management on Eircom’s restructuring, is one of the more pragmatic unions around but dogged in conflict. So it will be interesting to see how its pay claim goes down, especially with Eircom gearing up for a sale.

With a €65 million annual bill for its universal service obligations, An Post looks ill-equipped to afford such a rise, while the CWU recently pushed through smaller claims at companies such as Vodafone.

Eircom management, I understand, has agreed to talks. Herb Hribar, its chief executive, was due to attend the conference dinner last night after addressing workers.

Hopefully he didn’t hold up the meal for too long.

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