Industrial action by unions will cause 'gridlock'
Published 25/01/2010 | 05:00
THE head of the State's chief dispute resolution body is warning that public servants could cause "gridlock" in a short space of time.
Unions are reluctant to call an all-out strike, but chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) Kieran Mulvey said the campaign of industrial action over the €1bn pay cut may be highly disruptive regardless.
He said the commission was "keen" to help resolve the row but would not become a "boxing referee" between employers and trade unions "while they punch themselves to death over 15 rounds".
Tanaiste and Enterprise, Trade and Employment Minister Mary Coughlan also gave a strong signal that the LRC could find a way forward following the collapse of social partnership.
She said it would be needed as there were "another two Budgets to get through".
Ms Coughlan would not rule out another pay cut, however, stating that the Government had to save another €3bn next year.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) has already asked the commission to step in to avert industrial action over the pay cut of between 5pc and 15pc, but no invites had been issued by last night.
IMPACT, the Irish Nurses and Midwives' Organisation and the Prison Officers' Association are the latest unions to join the national work-to-rule today, which began last week.
"I think within a very short period we would end up with gridlock in this State if all the services were to activate their action in a build-up over the next number of months," said Mr Mulvey.
"The commission itself would be keen to get involved with the public service unions and with public service management in an initiative to see how we can identify the current issues that are leading to dispute.
"We are effectively playing by no rules and that is my concern and that is the concern I think the commission has at the moment.
"I am not prepared to allow the resources of the commission to be used over the next 12 months ... literally standing by just being a referee."
Ms Coughlan said the Labour Relations Commission had indicated it would have "initial discussions with both parties" to see if there was a "new way" to deal with the matter.
Last night, IMPACT National Secretary Kevin Callinan said it was unclear how the commission might intervene, as the union dispute was not with sectoral employers like the HSE, but with the Government.
"It's hard to see how it will work," he said.
Ms Coughlan also indicated that the Government plans to avoid any further conflict with unions after public sector managers put forward a proposal that they may take a more hard-line position.
Sources said the Cabinet is unlikely to endorse a more antagonistic position as it wants to get unions "back on side" to carry out its plans to "transform" the public service and is keen to stem the loss of public sector votes.
Proposals made by secretaries-general of government departments include the axing of funding, including the annual training grant of around €1m to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and measures that could potentially reduce union membership. The Garda Representative Association, for instance, gets more than €235,000 a year in funding from the Department of Justice.
In addition, if the Government chose to end an arrangement that sees public servants' subscriptions taken directly from their pay, it could mean unions lose members as they might not bother making alternative arrangements.
Referring to last week's disruptive strike by air traffic controllers, Mr Mulvey said that along with the Labour Court, the commission had to be more "pro-active" to try to avoid this kind of incident.
But he said he was "nervous" of introducing legislation banning strikes in essential services.
However, Transport Minister Noel Dempsey hinted that a no-strike clause may be examined during the dispute.