Unions warn of further action over pay dispute
UNION leaders have given the Government a six-week deadline to resolve a dispute over the €1bn public-sector pay cut as the row spreads to the health service this week.
General secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions David Begg has warned that the campaign of industrial action will intensify.
The Health Service Executive is bracing itself for a week of chaos as 30,000 administrative and care staff join the industrial action starting tomorrow.
Nurses and midwives could ramp up their own campaign with the withdrawal of labour, one of the measures to be debated by their union leaders when they meet over the coming days.
The developments came as the Government prepared to formally kick-start December's Budget measures and order up to €1.5bn in spending cuts across all state departments.
Public-sector reform will have to boost the Government's coffers by around €500m, if further pay cuts are to be avoided.
Government ministers have been circulated a memo ahead of tomorrow's meeting of Cabinet, asking for their initial proposals on how to find some €3m in savings. Government sources said it is hoped that public-sector pay cuts can be avoided but if agreement on reforms is not forthcoming from unions, ministers will have no option but to pursue pay cuts.
Mr Begg said the Government appeared not to be anxious to confront the unions as it had not reacted to the work-to-rule protest so far.
Thousands of lower-paid public workers have refused to answer telephones on a rolling basis across government departments, the Courts Service, Revenue, passport offices and social-welfare offices for the past few weeks. Staff also refused to man public counters, leading to the temporary closure of many offices last week.
The result of a ballot of 13,000 members of the Civil and Public Service Union is expected this evening on whether the union should take full strike action.
Speaking on RTE's 'This Week' yesterday, Mr Begg said: "I think as the thing builds, as it inevitably will over the coming weeks and, probably within the next six weeks, I think that this thing is in danger of coming to a head.
"And we have to find some way of solving the problem and it would be unconscionable if we actually allowed it to build to a head without trying seriously to resolve the problems."
He said that while the industrial action had been "quite cautious" until how, it was also making "inexorable progress".
Health chiefs have warned the public that they may face problems in contacting services over the coming days.
The rolling ban on answering phones kicks off in Dublin and the north-east region tomorrow and will spread to the west on Wednesday, the south on Thursday and the Dublin mid-Leinster region on Friday. The protest will last for periods of half a day and will also impact on voluntary hospitals.
The action is being spear-headed by trade union IMPACT, which has given assurances to the HSE that all calls to emergency departments will be answered. The union has also agreed that its members will screen calls to critical services -- such as coronary and cancer care -- on an hourly basis and those deemed to be urgent will be returned.
Meanwhile, second-level teachers' unions will step up their campaign from March 8, when members will refuse to carry out duties of retiring assistant principals or special duties' teachers.
In the financial sector, the result of a ballot of UNITE members at Bank of Scotland (Ireland) will be known today. The union is seeking a mandate for industrial action to support the 750 workers who are set to lose their jobs with the closure of Halifax, which is part of the banking group.