Fórsa conference: ‘People are struggling to put food on the table’

Pay most pressing issue for trade union delegates given steep rise in cost of living

Fórsa’s general secretary Kevin Callinan acknowledged at the union’s biennial conference in Killarney on Thursday that pay is the most pressing issue for members given steep rises in the cost of living.

There was no agreement at the conference on what the union should seek in meetings with the Government over the coming weeks but there was a clear feeling the minimum that would be acceptable is a rise in line with the current rate of inflation, currently expected to be more than 6 per cent for the year.

Many delegateswant to push for more than that with one withdrawn motion having suggested 30 per cent should be the target.

Some of the delegates attending the conference told The Irish Times about their view on the issue.

Linda O'Sullivan
Special needs assistant, north Dublin

I work in education and we are seeing it all the time, the pressure people are under, in particular in relation to the cost of childcare or its availability.

We’ve been hit hard over the last few years like everybody. The cost of living and what’s been happening in Ukraine is massively impacting on the lives of people in the public service and the public sector.

We need change because people are struggling, not struggling to enjoy the finer things in life but to put food on the table, whether they are in two-parent or one-parent families.

John Corry
DSP Executive Grades Branch, Longford

What we’ve got in the last few years has not been raises, it has been pay restoration so I would agree with the motions here at conference that we need increases now that are in line with inflation.

The lowest paid workers in the civil service are struggling with inflation and the cost of living, and pay increases need to reflect that.

You need to be able to live and pay childcare, buy fuel to get to work and all of that. One hundred per cent that is key to any new agreement being talked about now.

Catherine Coughlan
Revenue, north Dublin branch

I think it would be wrong to commit to any specific percentage because what has happened over the last couple of years, between the pandemic and now the war, we’ve seen that things can be very unpredictable.

Obviously, though, we need to get increases that are in line with inflation as a minimum but inflation keeps rising and rising and so it’s hard to say right now what that number is. I saw someone saying last week that inflation could be 7.3 per cent so people mention 5 or 6 per cent but that’s not even going to get us back to where we were.

Brian Burns
Office of Public Works, Dublin

It’s a tricky one but you’re going have to pay people properly. Inflation is just the latest part of the problem. People are still well down on where they were a decade ago despite all the talk of pay restoration.

I know people who work in Stephen’s Green park for the Office of Public Works, for instance, and they have to claim social welfare, even though they work full-time and have been on the frontline, keeping the park open.

In the old days they would have certain allowances that would have brought them up to a liveable wage but when the recession came all of those were cut. So they work full-time but have to claim social welfare… which is ridiculous.

Pat Considine
Account manager in housing, Clare County Council

I think we need to really knuckle down and keep in line with inflation, aim above it, because we had lost about 7 per cent from before this which we had needed to catch up with anyway and now you have about another 7 per cent this year and into next.

People are feeling this, absolutely, for a start there are mortgages and grocery bills but then there are the way commodity prices have gone and the likes of oil and electricity has just gone mad. Our members are feeling it and I think we should be looking for between 7 and 10 per cent as part of a review of the current agreement before we talk about any new one.

Margaret Coughlan
Catering manager, HSE, on secondment to the union, Wicklow

It’s not going to be easy because of everything that the Government has going on at the moment but I think we have to fight for our members, they expect the union to fight for them.

The people who have gone back to work have been particularly badly hit, there is the inflation on fuel and other costs and take-home pay now doesn’t reflect the sort of increases that people are experiencing on even the most basic of costs like groceries.

So it’s the big issue at the moment for members on the ground, everything else is sort of taking second place for now because people, particularly the ones on the lower grades, are finding it very hard.

Dermot McAuley
Executive Grades in the Department of the Taoiseach

I thought that it was really interesting that we saw pushback at the meeting today on the issue of the length of the national agreements, because we are seeing now what happens when you are locked into increases, but things change and people suddenly find themselves much worse off.

Everyone is affected but clearly if you are at the top end of the scale then you are reasonably well paid. I think someone on an entry-level grade is on something like €23,000… very, very low.

I see people in the office there and they are struggling to pay the rent. It’s a very serious issue and we are losing people all the time to the private sector.

Luisa Carty
School secretary, Galway

A lot of school secretaries have been on a very low wage before any of this. Around €13 an hour is kind of the basic rate of pay at the moment but we went around the country recently and found there are people being paid as little €9.50.

But even that money usually comes out of the auxiliary grants given to schools at the moment and those grants are at the discretion of the school’s board of management. The boards are finding that with gas bills and other costs rising they need to make up the shortfall and they are dipping into the grants so we see people on very low pay being hit twice by inflation because their hours are being cut too.