Public service is "in a state of agitation" over slow pay talks


THE public service is "in a state of agitation, the like of which we haven't seen in 10 years", the general secretary of the Association of Higher Civil Servants told delegates.

Nurses and teachers were contemplating industrial action while junior civil servants were actually engaged in it because of delays in negotiating pay deals under the Programme for Competitiveness and Work (PCW). The association's general secretary, Mr Sean O'Riordain, said this meant that "the legitimacy and authority of trade union leadership is under severe question".

In discussing their own problems in negotiating a pay deal under the restructuring provisions of the PCW, delegates expressed fears that unions like their own, which had traditionally adopted a moderate approach, would be left behind.

Mr O'Riordain joined the growing ranks of trade union leaders in saying that the "potential for another national agreement is there, but there is substantially less certainty that it will happen on this occasion".

The unemployed and low paid see record growth and record profits being made. But they do not see the market economy working for them and they are becoming increasingly alienated.

"And ordinary, decent public servants at the heart of the PAYE sector are fed up with an ISME type view to the effect that they are a burden on the `productive' sector and they are lucky to have jobs without expecting to be paid as well."

Referring to delays in negotiating their own restructuring deal, Mr O'Riordain recalled that the Government had agreed with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in June 1993 to conclude public sector pay deals by October 31st, 1993.

"These talks have, so far as this association is concerned, been marked by a lack of progress or commitment by the Government or official side. It is not very difficult to conclude that, because all of us are reasonable, moderate management trades who do not threaten industrial action, the Government and official side could not care less whether we are on board or not."

The public service embargo was severely criticised and delegates adopted a "wait and see" approach to whether the alternative system of setting a ceiling on Civil Service numbers was going to work.

They described the embargo as a direct contradiction of proposals in the Government's new Strategic Management Initiative for the Civil Service, which called for greater autonomy and flexibility in providing services to the public.

The chairman of the AHCS, Mr Richard Ryan, warned the Government that "it should not be assumed that we are going to quietly acquiesce in any new national pay deal which does not provide reasonable systems for dealing with genuine claims for improvements in pay and conditions."

It was also time to give the Arbitration Board, which hears industrial relations issues, "a meaningful role in adjudicating on pay claims", Mr Ryan said. "Their role has become marginalised under the current agreement." Delegates voted unanimously for a motion to ensure no future national agreement restricts the power of the board to make awards.