Pay demands and recruitment embargo put pressure on PCW

 

AT the weekend, delegates to a special conference of the Civil and Public Service Union voted unanimously to reject a pay offer under the PCW. As a result, the CPSU will now ballot its 10,000 members in the Civil Service, who are expected to follow the lead of the conference. If they do, a further ballot for industrial action seems inevitable.

Meanwhile, the CPSU executive meets on Thursday to decide how to escalate its existing campaign of industrial action over the recruitment embargo in the Civil Service. Last Wednesday, the union held a half day strike in all Government offices.

The four nursing unions are to announce the results of their ballots on Thursday also. It is a foregone conclusion that the 26,000 nurses will have voted overwhelmingly to reject their pay offer under the PCW. The unions are expected to move quickly to a strike ballot unless there is a significantly improved offer.

Meanwhile, IMPACT is to begin a ballot of 6,500 technical and professional staff throughout the Civil Service this week over the recruitment embargo. About 2,000 of these are tax officials and the remainder cover a wide range of crucial occupations, including veterinary inspectors in meat plants, accountants in all Government Departments, driving testers and agricultural officers.

The union has also put the Government on notice that its 15,000 members in health boards and local authorities will he balloted on strike action if negotiations do not begin soon on their PCW pay deal.

Industrial action in pursuit of pay claims is prohibited under the "peace" clause of the PCW, but there is no such prohibition on strikes over the recruitment embargo. IMPACT and the CPSU leaders have been scrupulous in keeping the issues separate, but the speed with which strike sanctions are being adopted over the embargo is sending a very clear message to the Government.

The collapse of the CPSU pay talks will he a source of particular concern to the Government. The public sector pay clause of the PCW was drawn up largely with the needs of the CPSU and the Public Service Executive Union in mind. With only 10 months of the PCW left to run, the PSEU is the only union which has concluded a pay deal with the Department of Finance.

Pay talks across the public service are now hopelessly behind schedule. About 15,000 clerical workers in local authorities and health boards are traditionally linked to the CPSU grades in the Civil Service. Their union, IMPACT, has been told that negotiations cannot progress until the CPSU deal is concluded.

Originally, it had been hoped that the CPSU negotiations would have concluded last October, which was also the deadline for pay deals with the teaching and nursing unions.

One major problem emerging is the lack of skilled negotiators available to the Department of Finance. At present, one assistant secretary, Mr Jim Fitzgerald, and a handful of principal officers have to monitor all negotiations and, in some cases, undertake them directly.

Yesterday, senior trade union leaders were paying tribute to the skill of Mr Fitzgerald and his team. But they saw no hope of breaking the logjam on pay talks without more resources being put into negotiations. And, unless the logjam is broken, there will be no question of another agreement when the PCW ends in December.