There is a real threat the current round of wage claims linked to surging inflation will end in strike at firms that do not recognise their employee’s difficulties, according to the president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).
Speaking at the Forsa biennial conference in Killarney, Patricia King said the pay deals “being awarded to the chief executives of some of Ireland’s top companies puts workers seeking pay rises, to counteract the impact of 7 per cent [inflation], firmly into perspective”.
Resistance to those more modest sorts of claims, she suggested, had resulted in a significant number ending up in the Labour Court and may yet result in full-scale disputes.
“I think industrial disputes are going to be a feature, we can even see it now,” she said after her speech to delegates at the conference.
“Some big companies in the private sector are now in the Labour Court seeking resolution. If they don’t resolve at the Labour Court, as you know, we operate a voluntary industrial relations procedures in Ireland. So where workers feel that they have to take industrial action, following the failure of those procedures, I think, yeah, it’s a live possibility.”
In relation to the forthcoming talks on a new national public sector deal with Government, one that will affect the pay and other conditions of about 365,000 civil and public sector workers, Ms King said it would be unwise for the union side to name a target figure. However, she echoed the suggestion by Forsa general secretary Kevin Callinan in recent days that an element of “social pay” – cuts to the cost of or improvements to the provision of public services – could serve to reduce the emphasis placed on pay rises pure and simple in any negotiations.
On RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland on Friday, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath acknowledged the Government will view attempts to address the cost of living issue in a wider context than pay alone.
“As a Government we have other levers at our disposal,” he said. The budget in October would focus on pay, changing tax codes and improving social welfare and a planned reduction in childcare costs would also reduce the burden people faced.
“It doesn’t solely fall on the pay bill to address the inflationary pressures. But undoubtedly, it can and will play a role if we can reach an agreement over the period ahead,” he said.
Ms King acknowledged the comments but said it remained to be seen whether the actions planned by the Minister and wider Government would be of the scale required to significantly impact on the pay claim element of ICTU’s position in the talks.
“We don’t know yet,” she said. “We have had two exploratory meetings with them in the last number of weeks. They have not confirmed that they want to engage in any serious way on that social dialogue. So we don’t know.”
There had, she said, been a number of ways in which many in the private sector sought to include other elements in deals that helped to broader the focus from regular pay packets.
“There are a variety of features to the agreements. It’s not just about headline percentages . . . lump sums and bonuses are being sought and achieved. Lesser working hours, extra annual leave, and so on.
“All of those are features of the agreements that are being reached in the private sector. So the public sector committee will meet the Government and then take it from there.
“From our point of view, it wouldn’t be correct to set any figures before you go to negotiations. But the backdrop of these negotiations is a 7 per cent, at least, increase in terms of inflation and the reduction in purchasing power means somebody on the minimum wage is effectively losing €26 a week. So you can see the value of the wage package is declining literally now on a weekly basis. So we have a huge problem. And it’s going to have to be resolved.”