THE Labour Relations Commission’s proposals for a revised Agreement on pay in the Public Service to extend over the period 2013-2016, are the result of unprecedentedly difficult negotiations. They have emerged in the context of the on-going consequences of the most serious economic collapse in the history of the state and the Government’s decision to reduce the Public Service pay and pensions bill by a further €1bn. We firmly believe that the best way Public Service Workers can protect their interests is through a single centralised Agreement, prohibiting compulsory redundancies, limiting redeployment and restricting outsourcing. Otherwise each group, grade and category, irrespective of how strong they believe themselves to be, is vulnerable to being isolated and attacked in the desperate quest for “savings”. That is why we supported the original “Croke Park Agreement” with the previous Fianna Fail/Green Party Government. It was for that reason and for no other that we participated in the recent negotiations to try to rescue the concept of a single centralised Agreement. The proposals which have emerged are the best that could be obtained through negotiation. (There is, of course, a wider issue of fairness in the Country as a whole because the wealthy are not contributing to the degree that they can or should. This is a consequence of the political choices made by the voters at election time). Voting No will not make the problem go away. The “Croke Park Agreement” will collapse and we will still be faced with the cuts agenda without the protections it provides. The Country is subject to the Troika imposed schedule for reducing the deficit, (which is still the highest in the Eurozone). That entails cutting the gap between tax revenue and spending by a further €4bn to €5bn between now and 2015. Public Service pay and pensions account for 35pc of all state spending. It is not clear how things will unfold if the proposals are rejected. Government spokespersons have declared the intention to legislate for pay and pension cuts. However we do not know what form such legislation might take. Some say backbenchers could be dissuaded by intensive lobbying from voting for such a law. Certainly a number of them would not want to do it. However, they would be faced with the alternative of voting through even more draconian measures on top of those which are already pencilled in for 2014 and 2015, under the Troika Agreement, if they do not do so. The hardy annual of legal action has also been rolled out as a potential way of stopping pay and pension cuts. However, the Financial Emergency Measures in Public Interest (FEMPI) legislation has proved impervious to all such challenges to date. Undoubtedly if a protracted industrial campaign involving the membership of all Unions across the Public Service could be maintained it would present major difficulty for the Employer, which in this case is the Government. It would become a gigantic trade dispute which would challenge both the Government and Public Service Union memberships generally. Ultimately, the real danger is that Public Service Workers could end up with the worst of both worlds, i.e. legislated pay cuts on one hand and no Agreement on the other. Then workers would suffer the cuts but they would have no protection against compulsory redundancy, redeployment or outsourcing. This in turn would open the way for one group after the other to be isolated and attacked, potentially forfeiting far more than what is envisaged in the LRC proposals. (For example, the Employers’ Organisation IBEC has been consistently calling for the effective dismantlement of the Public Service Pension system). One way or the other we must not allow this to happen. The purpose of Trade Unions is to advance the interests of Workers in times of prosperity and to defend them during downturns. Doing so entails making the best judgements we can in each given circumstance. We believe the best strategy for these extraordinary times is to keep the Centralised Collective Agreement in place for the period envisaged. This would enable all Public Service workers to retain the protection it affords against compulsory redundancy, redeployment and outsourcing, (as well as the defence it provides against other agendas), with the objective of working to recover lost ground later when there is a better prospect of success. We should at least try to pick a time and place when we wouldn’t have to take on the entire European establishment as well as our own. Accordingly we urge each member to consider the proposals carefully and assess the degree to which they would actually be affected by them. It is for each individual to decide whether they can go along with them for the period envisaged with the objective of recovering lost ground later, or whether they have no alternative but to make a stand now. This can only be determined by each member based on their own circumstances. The outcome will be decided by a majority vote in the secret ballot to be conducted over the next four weeks. In the event that the proposal is accepted by the membership and that it becomes an Agreement, we in SIPTU will not participate in any renegotiation of it which would entail any further diminution of Pay and Terms of Employment and we will actively oppose same.