Unions announce second day of strikes for next week


Trade unions have announced plans for a second national strike in public sector next week if they do not reach agreement on a pay deal in talks with the Government.

The public services committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) said it will hold a further protest on Thursday, December 3rd if no deal is reached during the talks.

Discussions between trade unions and the Government on an alternative plan for cutting the public sector pay bill without reducing actual pay levels will get under way tomorrow in the aftermath of today’s national public service strike. The Government wants to cut €1.3 billion from the State pay bill.

Ictu's Peter McLoone said the unions were hoping to reach agreement within a week.

"I believe it is possible to agree an alternative that will achieve the savings the Government requires – in 2010 and beyond – while rapidly agreeing and introducing reforms which will protect public services and the incomes of those who deliver them," he said.

"However, today’s national public service strike has demonstrated that our members have the resolve and the strength to resist the Government if it pursues an unfair and counter-productive course of further pay cuts."

The Government needs to push through €4 billion of savings in next month's Budget to stabilise the deficit at 12 per cent of GDP before he can start lowering it towards the European Union's upper limit of 3 per cent. Unions want a more gradual fiscal reform lasting until 2017 and say it should start by levying higher taxes on top earners, not cutting spending.

Speaking in the Dáil today, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan said he was "deeply disappointed" by the strike, and said it was causing "serious disruption and inconvenience to the public".

“I do not believe that the action today in any way advances the possibility of finding an agreement about managing the public service pay cost in this unprecendented economic crisis," he said.

Union leaders have said up to 250,000 civil and public servants took part in today's national public service strike.

Much of the State's public sector was shut down as nurses, teachers, firefighters and other employees protested against Government plans to cut pay. The strike, which begain at midnight, is due to last 24 hours, with emergency workers taking turns to provide emergency and essential services. Unions said members had been exempted from industrial action in the worst flood-affected areas.

Firefighters were the first to go on strike at midnight, and other public workers, including prison guards and civil servants,  joined the stoppage.

About 1,500 primary teachers marched to the Department of Education headquarters in Marlborough Street, Dublin, this morning. The march was part of a picket of all Department offices by the Irish National Teachers' Organisation.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) said 1,000 second-level teachers have already lost their jobs and a unilateral pay cut was introduced earlier this year. In a statement, the TUI said: "Teachers and lecturers are prepared to take their fair share of pain in the current economic climate but the proposed cuts are disproportionate and selectively applied."

Bernard Harper of Impact said rhis morning the industrial action would cause regrettable hardship, but he said union members felt they were forced into it because all other causes of action had been exhausted.

The director of the Small Firms Association Patricia Callan said the strike is causing unnecessary widespread disruption to the entire economy. “Whether we like it or not, with an 8 per cent drop in our GDP growth rate, we are simply no longer capable of generating the tax revenues necessary to maintain the scale of the public sector that we now have,” she said.

The nationwide strike resulted in the closure of all public offices and schools. Telephone services operated by Government departments, the Revenue Commissioners and the Passport Office were also hit.

Unions called off strike action involving local authority and health sector staff in counties Cork, Clare and Galway, which have been badly hit by the flooding crisis.

Over 16,000 hospital patients had their appointments or procedures cancelled. However, emergency services have been provided in key areas. About 55,000 social welfare customers had their weekly payment delayed by 24 hours.

Gardaí were operating as normal. However, they may not issue penalty point or fixed charge notices to motorists. Certain services usually provided by civilian support staff have been reduced or are being provided by gardaí. Members of the Defence Forces were guarding the Dáil today instead of gardaí.

Court sittings were cancelled today except in emergency cases, while the Seanad did not sit and the operation of the Dáil was curtailed.

Local authority public offices were closed but minimum emergency and essential cover  being provided for fire and water services. Cover was being provided in areas such as Met Éireann and the Coast Guard, where otherwise there could be a threat to life.

Pickets were placed by the CPSU at the Irish Embassy in London as well as in Brussels.

Members of the Prison Officers Association held two hour-long pickets at prisons today. Emergency cover was provided during the strike.

Meanwhile, the AA reported six-kilometre tailbacks on the road to Newry in a suspected surge of people travelling to Northern Ireland to shop during the strike.