Sunday 4 December 2016

Siptu splurges on 1916 relic as numbers sink

Union loses 20,000 members in just two years

Published 26/06/2011 | 05:00

JACK O'Connor's trade union Siptu blew €267,000 on a trophy copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic as unemployment soared and the trade union haemorrhaged members, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

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Siptu's documents obtained by the Sunday Independent show that the union spent €266,771 on "heritage assets". The files note: "During the year Siptu purchased an original copy of the 1916 Proclamation." While it was splurging on history, the union was also engaging in a major internal restructuring "to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing workplace and to place the union in a position to deal with all aspects of its social and economic role". The Liberty Hall outfit has put aside €600,000 "in respect of expected costs arising".

There are about 25 copies of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence in existence, with six in the Dail, the National Museum and other state organisations. Another two are believed to be in the British archives. The value collectors are willing to pay for the historic document produced for the Easter Rising in 1916 has oscillated wildly in recent years. Ten years ago a buyer paid about €66,000 for a copy at an auction in Whyte's. In 2008 an auction at Adams saw a buyer pay a record €360,000 for a copy. However, last April a copy of the Proclamation failed to even reach its reserve at an auction in Dublin.

While it was buying 1916 memorabilia, membership was tumbling as Ireland's workplaces evolved. The multi-national sector is not unionised and nor are major employers such as Ryanair or O2. Siptu shed more than 20,000 members in just two years. In a filing with the registry of Friendly Societies, obtained by the Sunday Independent last week, Siptu revealed that it had 232,125 members at the end of 2010. This compares with 252,369 at the start of 2009. More than 11,000 men left Siptu in 2010 alone. However, the size of Siptu's active membership can be better gauged by examining the numbers of members contributing to its political fund. Just over 165,000 members were listed as contributors. The Siptu ranks are also swollen by 17,728 members who are pensioners.

Siptu managed to recruit just 29,094 new members last year -- a 40 per cent drop compared with the numbers signing up in the mid-2000s. In 2004 about 48,000 workers joined Siptu, with another 40,000 the following year.

The slump in membership has hit Siptu's coffers hard. The workers contributed €38m in 2010, compared with €40.3m in 2009 but profits rose more than tenfold to €2.8m. An incredible 67 per cent of all union subscriptions and other income was spent on Siptu staff wages and administration costs. The union splashed out close to €2.2m on conferences, travel, transport and subsistence costs with a further €277,000 on "promotional" spending. The trade union also owns €1.55m worth of cars, having splashed out €311,000 on new motors during the year. Siptu also allocated €500,000 for redeveloping its Liberty Hall office block in Dublin.

But Siptu has built up a near €35m fighting fund in case relations between employers and unions deteriorate even more. The union's "strike" fund or the industrial contingency fund contained €18.4m, having been topped up by €2m last year. A further €2.5m has been ploughed into the fighting fund in recent years. Siptu's general fund contains another €16.3m.

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