Passport staff told wages to be docked
Threat of strike grows after move
Published 23/03/2010 | 05:00
THE threat of a public-sector strike grew last night after passport office workers were told their pay would be cut if they refuse to carry out duties.
Unions reacted with fury to an email sent to staff by the Department of Foreign Affairs telling workers their pay will be docked if they do not man public counters at passport offices.
The tough intervention came after members of the public spent hours queueing to see if progress was being made on their passport applications.
The action, which received virtually no backing from the public yesterday, was even preventing some people from applying for jobs, said Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin.
But union chiefs reacted angrily to the development and said a strike -- which could draw in workers across the public sector -- was likely to follow if any pay was docked.
"If you don't pay people, people will strike," Blair Horan, head of the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU), which represents lower-paid public-sector workers, said.
The CPSU claimed staff received a number of different emails, one saying pay would be docked if workers engaged in a work-to-rule, another saying it would be docked if workers did not man the public counters, and yet another saying people could be taken off the payroll.
Union sources said they would wait for clarification today but were unsure if any strike could draw in other CPSU members across the public sector. The union has 13,000 members in areas like Revenue and social welfare offices.
"That would remain to be seen," a union source said. "We don't know what way it is going to go."
A Foreign Affairs source said people would not be taken off the payroll completely and accused unions of adding confusion to the situation.
The passport go-slow in protest at the public-sector pay cuts has led to a backlog of 40,000 applications and a 20-day wait to complete applications. It has also increased anxiety among people who are planning to travel abroad soon.
Management and the CPSU met in the Labour Relations Commission last night and Mr Horan said the union was offering to help and bring the backlog down. Yesterday's decision was taken by management at the Department of Foreign Affairs, who had to inform the Department of Finance.
The latest development also comes against the backdrop of continuing negotiations between the Government and public-sector unions. The talks are expected to focus on the big-ticket issues of pay, pensions and reform over the coming days.
The agreed target is to conclude the talks by Easter but it is hoped they can finish as soon as this weekend. Union bosses, such as IMPACT's Peter McLoone, have promised major reform of the public sector if pay cuts of as much as 14pc are reversed over time.
Passport workers have claimed that they have been carrying out back-office duties when the public counters have closed, but department chiefs say this is not a valid excuse.
The email, addressed to all staff, said the docking of pay began yesterday. It could also effect the pension entitlements of the workers involved.