Staff to target TDs' passport fast-tracking 'privileges'
PUBLIC sector workers are considering hitting TDs where it hurts by withdrawing from fast-track services for passport applications.
The proposal comes as the "low-grade" industrial action officially began yesterday across the public service, with unions saying it was designed to highlight their anger at the pay cuts in last month's Budget.
Under the fast-tracking system, TDs and senators can leave passport applications given to them by members of the public in a drop box in Leinster House. The passports are processed by a special unit and issued within five days -- whereas the Passport Express system takes 10 working days.
But the public sector unions are now considering a "menu" of work-to-rule options to hit some of the "special privileges" provided to TDs in protest at the pay cuts.
Civil and Public Service Union general secretary Blair Horan said the issue of withdrawing co-operation with the passport fast-tracking arrangement was under consideration.
"There are quite a lot of arrangements where TDs effectively have special privileges in terms of fast-tracking things. You can have action in that area which again inconveniences the system and TDs, but we are certainly not trying to bring the system of parliament to a halt," he said.
TDs and senators send up to 4,000 passport applications through the fast-tracking system each year. Although TDs say it allows them to help constituents in need, critics say it helps them to garner votes.
Mr Horan said the final decision on the format of the work-to-rule action would be made after agreement was reached between the three unions representing civil servants -- the CPSU, IMPACT and the Public Services Executive Union.
SIPTU general president Jack O'Connor said yesterday that the work-to-rule protest would not be called off until the Government reversed the public sector pay cuts.
But unions have indicated that they are prepared to deal with the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) chief executive Kieran Mulvey. He wants to hold talks over the next two weeks to resolve the dispute and avoid further situations like last week's crippling air traffic controllers strike.
Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe welcomed the intervention by the LRC in the dispute between the Government and public sector unions.
"It's a difficult period and what the LRC has said is 'step back, let's have a look at where we are, let's talk, let's see what can come out of those talks' and I am absolutely delighted that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has indicated that this is positive and the Government view this as a positive step as well," he said.
Environment Minister John Gormley also urged unions to "draw back from the brink" yesterday, saying that industrial action would be counter-productive. Although he told RTE that the "difficult decisions" on pay cuts had been made, he said the Government wanted to talk with the unions to reach "compromises" that would be in the best interests of the country.
The Department of Finance said it would be monitoring the work-to-rule protest by unions. It said all staff would be expected to carry out the duties appropriate to their grade.
But it cannot take action or dock pay in the work-to-rule protest if staff refuse to do tasks which are not specifically mentioned in their contracts -- such as filling in for a manager who is on holiday or sick leave.
The unions are also considering withdrawing co-operation with the system of parliamentary questions, which is a key part of TDs' work. Around 40,000 of them are submitted every year to hold Government to account on subjects ranging from individual operations for patients to citizenship applications to grants for sports clubs.
One possibility being considered is refusing to answer parliamentary questions from Government TDs.
Mr Horan said unions would have to take account of the Government's constitutional authority to govern when deciding on a work-to-rule strategy.
"Trying to bring Government business to a halt would not be part of our agenda because that would cross the line between Government as an employer and Government as constitutional authority," he said.