Siptu all set to ballot 60,000 members over pay dispute
ICTU agrees to a fortnight of talks; Union president does not want 'people left behind'
SIPTU will authorise ballots of its 60,000 public service members for industrial action, including strikes, after the Government ignored its leader's ultimatum to announce new pay talks by today.
General President Jack O'Connor last night said he had not expected the Government to respond after he gave it a tight deadline of a week to agree to renegotiate the Lansdowne Road Agreement.
But he said he put it up to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe, to commit to negotiations on pay rises. Other unions had begun balloting and his union "could not sit on its hands".
Some union sources claimed Siptu had gone on a solo run. The union's hardline stance was not adopted by the other public sector union leaders of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) at a meeting in Belfast.
Instead, the ICTU's Public Services Committee, of which Siptu is a member, will continue to talk with Government officials over the next two weeks on its demand for talks on faster pay rises in the new year.
However, the secretary of the committee, Tom Geraghty, warned there would inevitably be industrial action if a collective agreement did not take place.
Yet Mr O'Connor took a far more strident approach - and said that Siptu could not get left behind amid the recent surge of pay claims.
"I didn't expect them (the Government) frankly to respond to a deadline like that," he said.
"But our executive council meeting is scheduled for tomorrow and it's the last meeting of the current executive, which is the custodian of the Lansdowne Road Agreement.
"And we wouldn't want to be leaving office without making it clear that we can't just sit on our hands while other people are balloting."
He said that there was either an agreement in place, or there wasn't.
If other claims were settled, then it "burns up all the resources that are available and some people are left behind and get nothing".
"We can't have our people left behind. Our members can't be restricted from taking action when the agreement is not being applied to everyone in the same way," he added.
He said he was not particularly concerned about the recent deal offered to gardaí to halt strikes, but his concerns grew when other unions started balloting and the Lansdowne Road Agreement unravelled.
"It seemed to be alright for Siptu to hold the line, and other people to do what they like," he said.
Unions for nurses and doctors have begun balloting over issues including understaffing and getting allowances reinstated, but Mr O'Connor refused to specify who he was referring to.
Siptu's Public Administration and Community Division Organiser, John King, said the union's national executive council is expected to endorse Mr O'Connor's strategy at a meeting this morning.
"Unless there is a clear and unequivocal commitment to talks at the beginning of February next year, we will begin to consult our members on balloting. We will be adopting a collective position on that," he said.
Meanwhile, the ICTU meeting in Belfast was called to discuss the Public Services Committee's pay strategy after members described a pay proposal for gardaí - worth up to €4,150 each - as a "game changer".
Under the Lansdowne Road deal, public servants are already getting an average of €2,000 each through changes in their pension contributions and pay rises.
Unions will meet Government officials in a bid to agree pay talks in the new year but have warned that unions will otherwise take industrial action.
Leaders said they will continue to engage with officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform over the next two weeks.
In a statement, they said they would "maintain a collective approach to public service pay and related issues" and they would hold another meeting of the committee in two weeks time.
The statement mirrored the words of Mr Donohoe yesterday when he said a collective approach was the only way to deal with pay claims.