250,000 public workers to strike

 

Union leaders expect up to 250,000 civil and public servants to take part in the planned national public service strike tomorrow.

Speaking at a press conference this afternoon, the chairman of the public service committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) Peter McLoone said the Government had forced them into a strike that nobody wanted. He said the Government had so far failed to engage with the unions "with willingness to negotiate a fair alternative to plans for a second huge pay cut in less than a year".

However, he acknowledged that tomorrow's strike will cause hardship for those who depend most on public services. Mr McLoone said the strike would see a shutdown of Ireland's public services, with the exception of emergency cover and exemptions for staff dealing with with storm and flood damage in certain parts of the country, including Galway, Cork and Clare.

Mr McLoone said a Government document on transforming public services, issued last Friday, had not contained sufficient guarantees on pay, pensions and compulsory redundancies to merit calling off the strike. However, he said the document could form the basis of negotiations.

The public service committee of Ictu met this afternoon to consider the Government document, and agreed to go back into talks with the Government on Wednesday.

The committee also considered plans for further strike action in protest at Government proposals to cut public service pay, and is expected to make an announcement tomorrow on a possible second stage of industrial action.

Meanwhile, Isme, the group representing small and medium businesses, has strongly criticised the planned national public service strike tomorrow and urged the Government "not to concede an inch" to trade unions.

In a statement, Isme chief executive Mark Fielding described the strike as a "disgrace". He said public sector union leaders were leading their members down a path of no return, which would cause further damage to an economy already on life support.

"The reality is, whether union bosses realise it or not, the economy is in crisis and, as a country, we are spending more than we are earning. With that stark reality the Government has no option but to reduce the cost of running the public sector. The alternative is bankruptcy, leading to the IMF, the EU, or both, taking over the financial affairs of the State".

"Strike action will serve no purpose, except to create hardship for those in need, inconvenience the public and undermine the economy internationally, which will have negative consequences on future investment,” Mr Fielding argued.

“The narrow, selfish and blinkered view of the trade union leaders allows them to lecture the rest of us about the paramount importance of the role of their members to society, as if the demise of the private sector, through job losses and company closures, was not a concern.”

Mr Fielding said the pay and conditions enjoyed by many in the public sector were “the envy of the rest of society”. He said the private sector has already experienced wage cuts, with reductions of 13 per cent in the SME sector this year. In addition, thousands of jobs had been lost and hundreds of companies had closed.

Yesterday the employers' group Ibec criticised the strike as "unacceptable and wrong".