Public services facing crippling strikes
Unions to hit schools, hospitals and welfare offices
SCHOOLS, hospitals and crucial public services face massive disruption after unions announced crippling strikes across the state sector.
The country may be plunged into industrial chaos within weeks as up to 300,000 public servants escalate their campaign against the €1bn Budget pay cut through a series of work stoppages. Strikes could start as early as Monday.
Unions in sectors including health, the civil service, local government and education are to meet within days to discuss downing tools.
The Civil, Public and Services Union, which represents 13,000 lower paid civil servants, has already served notice of strike action from next week. Other unions are due to follow suit.
Following a critical meeting yesterday, union leaders steering the campaign warned that the country was on the brink of "Armageddon". They said a "withdrawal of labour", including rolling hourly and one-day strikes, was now imminent.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions' Public Services Committee said its aim was to get into talks with the Government to reverse the cut which, combined with the pension levy, has reduced pay by 14pc.
Its chairman, Peter McLoone, said unions would be willing to swap public sector reforms for a reversal of the pay cut "over time".
A Department of Finance spokesperson said that although the Government was open to talks, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan had "made it clear that we are not in a position to reverse the Budget changes".
Different forms of strikes will be co-ordinated by unions in various parts of the public sector including:
- Education unions plan to close schools for half-days or full days in rolling work stoppages by county or region.
- Health unions are planning random work stoppages for two hours at a time in different regions.
- Civil service unions are considering 'selective' one-day strikes of limited or indefinite duration.
These will take place in targeted locations and key departments, including Revenue and Social and Family Affairs, which could shut down the welfare and tax administration systems.
- Gardai, who do not have the legal right to strike, will carry out supportive action. This will include joining pickets when off duty.
They have also threatened 'work-to-rule' action and will refuse to use their personal mobile phones and computers. There is a possibility that they may turn a blind eye to some road traffic offences.
Mr McLoone said: "The public service transformation proposals, put forward by the unions and rejected by Government last December, could be back on the table if the Government was prepared to say pay cuts could be reversed over time as savings were made.
"But the longer the industrial action goes on, the harder it will be to convince our members of the merits of such a deal or of the Government's capacity to deliver it in a fair and effective way."
Last night, Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin said she was "very concerned" about the escalation.
Asked about CPSU plans for strike action at welfare offices, she predicted that all-out action would be catastrophic.
"That would be disastrous for the 1.2 million people who get a payment every week from the Department of Social Welfare," she said.
"We're talking about pensioners who are dependent on it, we're talking about people who have lost their jobs."