Local authority staff to ballot for strike action in pay dispute

Fórsa seeks job evaluation scheme as ‘workers paid different rates in different counties’

Fórsa’s local government national secretary Peter Nolan said the decision to vote for industrial action followed a move by management to withdraw from Labour Court proceedings. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Fórsa’s local government national secretary Peter Nolan said the decision to vote for industrial action followed a move by management to withdraw from Labour Court proceedings. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Up to 9,000 local authority staff, who are members of the Fórsa trade union, are to ballot for strike action in pursuit of a job evaluation system for clerical and administrative personnel, which could result in higher pay.

Addressing the union’s local government division conference on Wednesday its national secretary, Peter Nolan, said the decision to vote for industrial action followed a move by management to withdraw from Labour Court proceedings on the issue.

Under job evaluation processes, the roles of particular grades of staff are reviewed to determine if they have evolved over time and if they should be upgraded as a result.

The union is seeking a local authority job evaluation scheme similar to those in operation in the HSE and the education sector.

In September 2019 about 7,000 health service support staff backed proposals for increases of between six and 13 per cent following a job evaluation process in that sector.

Pay increases on foot of job evaluation exercises are in addition to general increases .

Fórsa said the dispute on the job evaluation issue in the local authority sector was considered in the Labour Court last year, which had asked the union to present a business case to support its claim. The union said it had completed this work, but the Local Government Management Agency, which represents council employers, had refused to return to the Labour Court.

Mr Nolan said local authority workers would now be asked to back industrial action up to and including the withdrawal of labour. He said almost 10,000 council jobs were lost following the financial crisis, and services had only been maintained because staff had taken on additional responsibilities above their pay grades.

Pay system

“The pay system in local government lacks equality, consistency and fairness. Local authorities suffered the greatest reduction of numbers of employees during the austerity era, which has resulted in significant grade drift in the sector. Local authority workers deserve no less favourable treatment than colleagues in other sectors,” he said.

He said there were disparities in pay rates across the local government sector, where staff doing the same work could be paid more or less depending on which of the 31 councils they worked for.

“We know that technicians, archivists, heritage officers, museum curators, environmental awareness officers, library staff, authorised officers and IT workers are being paid different pay rates in different counties.

“We believe it is precisely for this reason that the employers are so strenuous in their opposition to a job evaluation scheme for the sector. That’s why they refuse to agree to go to the Labour Court to consider our claim,” he said.

Staff transfer

Separately, the conference heard that industrial action over the proposed transfer of 3,500 local authority staff to Irish Water is “almost inevitable” as poor engagement had left a “huge gap” between Government plans and the protections workers are seeking.

Mr Nolan said it was “almost impossible” to see how the gap between the parties could be closed.

“The repeated failure to respond to union concerns, or even to show some respect to the people who use and provide our water infrastructure, makes me think that industrial action is almost inevitable. The only question is when,” he said.

Mr Nolan said industrial action would likely result in “a settlement that could have been achieved without recourse to strike action.” He also warned that a new national water authority would fail without staff engagement and buy-in.

A spokeswoman for the Minister for Housing and Local Government Darragh O’Brien said talks on a framework for the future delivery of water services was expected to be scheduled to take place at the Workplace Relations Commission in the coming weeks.