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Saturday 24 June 2017

Public sector to ramp up disruption as talks resume

Weeks of chaos ahead as unions to shut down key services at short notice

Liam Doran, of the INO, and Patricia King of SIPTU arrive for the talks in the LRC in Dublin yesterday.
Liam Doran, of the INO, and Patricia King of SIPTU arrive for the talks in the LRC in Dublin yesterday.

Anne-Marie Walsh and Katherine Donnelly

UNIONS will not scale back plans to cause massive disruption to public services next week despite intense talks with the Government over public service pay cuts.

Civil servants refused to back down on their threat to start a four-week ban on overtime from Monday, the same day negotiations officially begin.

Thousands of members of the Civil, Public and Services Union (CPSU) and Public Service Executive Union (PSEU) will also refuse to answer phones in all government departments in the afternoon.

Banned

In addition, they plan to continue shutting down key services at short notice, including social welfare, passport and Revenue offices, during the week.

Industrial action already being taken by teacher unions will stay in place pending developments at the talks.

Teachers have banned parent/ teacher meetings, school planning meetings outside school hours and attendance at training courses during school hours without substitute cover.

Since last week, teachers are refusing to do the work of posts of responsibility that have been left vacant because of the government embargo on filling certain positions.

The gridlock already gripping the administration of the state is likely to get worse while talks are underway over the next fortnight.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny called on the unions to call off existing industrial action.

He said they should do this in return for a government assurance that there will be no cuts in their core pay in the next budget.

"In return, the trade unions should call off existing industrial action and service disruptions, such as the delays in issuing passports that are preventing hundreds of children from going on school trips over the Easter break."

But senior union leaders vowed they would continue to apply pressure on the government until they had the basis for an agreement.

However, they also revealed they would not "put their foot on the accelerator" unless the discussions collapsed.

Teacher unions are pulling back from plans for school closures as part of their campaign to reverse pay cuts.

At a meeting on Thursday, before the Taoiseach invited the unions back to talks, primary teacher leaders were discussing stepping up their action to include school closures.

However, the threat was dropped from the agenda when the Irish National Teachers' Organisation executive meeting resumed yesterday, as exploratory talks got under way on pay and public sector reform.

Talks to restore the deeply damaged relationship between the government and its employees will start on Monday following a three-month standoff.

At a preliminary meeting at the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) yesterday, the parties agreed a two-week timeframe for talks that will centre on a trade off of 'pay for change'.

This means that public servants will be asked to accept major reforms. In return, they expect a payback of the reduction to their wages over time.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen invited unions to talks on Thursday, just days after the State's chief employers, including the HSE, admitted they were being "slowly strangled" by the campaign before it had even entered 'phase two'.

Failure

Unions had threatened widespread work stoppages from next week and a two-day strike at seven Dublin hospitals next month.

Speaking after yesterday's meeting, LRC chief executive Kieran Mulvey said the parties were unanimous that they wanted to reach agreement in two weeks.

Irish Congress of Trade Unions general secretary David Begg said the failure of talks would be "catastrophic".

He said that, aside from the dire impact on relations between the government and its employees, Ireland's international reputation would suffer.

Irish Independent

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