'Super unions' plan to cut ICTU down in size
UNIONS have agreed to proceed with a radical rationalisation of their unwieldy structures which could see the 48 unions in ICTU slimmed down to six or seven "super unions".
At a private session at the ICTU biennial conference in Belfast, unions agreed to rewrite their constitution and adopt the Dutch model in which small and big unions are organised on a federal structure.
The idea is that instead of the 48 bodies, there would be six or seven larger ones.
It means, for example, one will represent staff in the retail sector, one in manufacturing, one in finance, one representing public servants and so on.
The idea, according to ICTU sources, is that smaller vocational unions, such as nurses, would retain their independence while being able to draw on the unified strength of the super public sector union.
At present, there is wide variation in the size of the unions within ICTU, ranging from 200,000 members in SIPTU to 2,300 in the university teachers' union, IFUT.
The bigger unions that exit now believe that if they do not try to adapt, such change might be foisted on them.
Trade union representation is almost entirely missing in some growing sectors such as finance and IT, but remains strong in sectors that are suffering job losses such as manufacturing.
While the initiative predates the recent bickering between public sector unions over the Croke Park II public sector pay agreement, it has "made the case" for the new federal structure.
"Croke Park exposed weaknesses in ICTU which this would resolve," said a source.
ICTU delegates backed a motion that will enable union leaders to take the next step in the process which, it is estimated, will take up to five years to become a reality.