Unions say they are ready for 'war' over pay
PSEU backs deal but others prepared to fight
A NUMBER of public sector unions have indicated that they have the stomach for an industrial relations "war" if the controversial pay deal is not accepted by members.
They were reacting to a warning from a senior Irish Congress of Trade Union (ICTU) official yesterday that a "very high-level war" is the only alternative to giving the deal the green light.
Tom Geraghty, general secretary of the Public Service Executive Union (PSEU), was speaking after his union became the first civil service union to back the deal. Mr Geraghty said the unions could not hope to do any better in negotiations, given the current economic climate.
"The only alternative to the outcome of this particular process is to engage in a prolonged, sustained and very high-level, industrial relations war," he said.
"Now I don't believe that the vast bulk of public servants want to find themselves in that situation, and even if they did, it's not going to change the external factors that are influencing the situation in which we find ourselves. It's not going to change the difficulties in our economy, or the fiscal difficulties that the Government has."
PSEU represents 10,000 mid-ranking civil servants. It is also expected that IMPACT's 65,000 members will accept the deal next week.
However, the decisions of other unions are not so clear-cut. The more militant Civil, Public and Services Union (CPSU), which organised the go-slow protest in the Passport Office, will decide on April 12, but a senior source indicated it would not back away from a fight.
"There is no doubt that there wouldn't be stomach among Mr Geraghty's members for an industrial relations war," the source said.
"He's right in terms of the group he's representing. I wouldn't necessarily say the same would be true about our people."
Mr Geraghty said that for the deal to go through it would require a majority of the trade unions affiliated to the Public Services Committee (PSC) of the ICTU to decide that they wanted to make the agreement.
And the CPSU source has acknowledged that if there is a majority of unions on board, the Government will "plough on". But along with the CPSU, the leader of a teachers' union said yesterday that it would not be bound by a majority decision.
The Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) was the first to oppose the Croke Park proposals and its executive will recommend rejection to the union's annual conference next week. A final decision on whether TUI members will be balloted on the package will be taken at the conference. Traditionally, the PSC takes a majority decision.
And with the voting weight of each union dictated by its numerical strength, major unions such as SIPTU and IMPACT, led by Peter McLoone, have a huge influence.
In the event of the PSC backing the deal, with the TUI against, the union would take the majority PSC view on board and then take its own decision.
TUI general secretary Peter MacMenamin said what his union was doing at Croke Park was investigating an alternative to a pay cut and they were satisfied that this was the best they could do in those negotiations.
"Now we know, so we can say to members: 'On the one hand, you have a cut and this is what you have on the other'."
The other second-level teachers union, the ASTI, has also voiced vehement opposition to the proposals; while the primary teachers' INTO will be recommending it to members.
And the issue will dominate debate at next week's annual teacher union conferences.