The strikes at Luas, Dublin Bus and elsewhere this year cost the trade union Siptu more than €500,000, its general secretary Joe O'Flynn has said.
However he said the union’s contingency fund – which he described as the “financial weapon” it had to support members involved in strikes – had about €19.5 million.
“That money is there to protect members’ interests. It gives an assurance that if an employer, regardless of who they are, decides to take us on and tries to smash our members’ interests, we have the financial wherewithal to support the members .”
“When our union threatens to go on strike, whether it is for the ambulance [personnel] or for the home helps or for whoever else, we have the financial capacity to actually follow through and support the members.”
“There are very few unions in this country that have that capacity. They will talk about it but they do not necessarily have the financial capacity”, he said.
Mr O’Flynn told Siptu’s health division biennial conference in Dublin that while the main disputes this year had been at Luas and Dublin Bus this year, there had been quite a number of others also.
He said these disputes set trends in terms of pay norms and standards which helped the union to “try establish good pay increases right throughout the rest of the economy”.
Mr O’Flynn said in the years following the economic crash in 2008, Siptu’s income had fallen by about €11 million annually, from €44.5 million to €33.5 million.
He said the union had lost about 50,000 members as a result of unemployment and other reasons from a peak of more than 200,000 before the crash.
However he said the union was rebuilding, restructuring and increasing resources in a way that offered support to shop stewards.
Mr O’Flynn said that in 2015 the union increased its membership by more than 21,000.
He said the union was on target to achieve its objective for the year of recruiting 25,000 members.
He said the union had members in 71 of the country’s top 100 companies.
Separately, Siptu's health division organiser Paul Bell told the conference that his members wanted "immediate negotiations" with the Government on a new pay deal.
However, he said the union did not want to rip up the existing Lansdowne Road collective agreement with the Government. He said that this afforded protections, for example, against outsourcing of members’ work.
Addressing delegates, Mr Bell said: “The message from our members to the Government is loud, clear and decisive. We want to reclaim the ground lost since the economic collapse and win a new deal for health that is underpinned by better healthcare for patients and better jobs for health workers.
“This new deal must include the Government agreeing to accelerated pay restoration, real pay progression and a commitment to pay justice for new entrants to the health service workforce.”
Mr Bell ruled out special deals for individual groups in the public service.
“When we leave the provisions of Fempi [the financial emergency legislation which underpinned pay cuts] we will be leaving together. There will be no special interest groups ahead of us because we all entered Fempi together.”