Wednesday 28 September 2016

The Yates Anthology: Election campaign to spark industrial unrest

Published 05/12/2015 | 02:30

18,000 ASTI members have already rejected reform of Junior Certificate classroom assessments, while 9,000 TUI members will join them in refusing to accept reversed FEMPI terms
18,000 ASTI members have already rejected reform of Junior Certificate classroom assessments, while 9,000 TUI members will join them in refusing to accept reversed FEMPI terms

Despite years of public sector pay retrenchment, no strikes ensued, but could the early New Year election campaign spark off a series of bushfires in the form of industrial disputes?

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Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin signed orders implementing the Lansdowne Road Agreement this week.

Last September 16, the big battalions of Siptu, TEEU, INTO, Impact and INMO ratified the deal to restore €2,000 and increment payments to pay packets.

But a new militancy and low morale may have political fallout in an austerity backlash. As Right2Water morphed into Right2 Change, union leaders like Brendan Ogle and David Gibney were busy. Building on a union coalition of Unite, Mandate and TEEU members, they've been politicised by joining forces with Sinn Féin, People before Profit, AAA, assorted TDs such as Mick Wallace and Clare Daly.

Collectively, their target is to devour Labour seats and traditional union leader loyalty, as epitomised by Jack O'Connor. Canvassing chaos would negate the favourable mood music of recovery for all. Fine Gael may remain ambivalent; it knows its core support lies amongst 1.7 million private sector workers and the self-employed. Overt concessions to appease malcontents would risk a backlash from taxpayers.

The Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements always had minority dissenters. They had to suck up their pain. This time they could cause trouble, particularly in secondary schools. 18,000 ASTI members have already rejected reform of Junior Certificate classroom assessments, while 9,000 TUI members will join them in refusing to accept reversed FEMPI (Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) terms. Schools are set to close from 16 March to 4 April on extended break - due to St Paddy's Day, Easter and 2016 commemorations. So disruption must come as early as January/February.

Both Garda unions, the AGSI and GRA, also said "No". Terms agreed under Haddington Road to work an extra 30 hours per week will terminate. Up to 380,000 hours of Garda policing are in jeopardy from January 1. Garda management recently won legal representation rights in the European Court of Justice. Remember the Blue flu. INMO nurses in emergency departments of hospitals are also set to suspend working arrangements through graduated rolling protests in a matter of weeks.

The dilemma for the Government is that attempts to assuage unrest would cause wider consequences.

All 300,000 public personnel would seek parity. Some flexibility now exists in Exchequer coffers to provide some amelioration, as Corporation Tax kitty balloons from €4.6bn to a likely €7bn bonanza by year-end (an embarrassment of riches, not explicable by all conventional growth scenarios).

The biggest bugbear is amongst recruits since 2010, employed on 'yellow pack' terms of diminished pay and pension entitlements. Extremely low turnouts in ASTI ballots mean their votes reflect alienation from incumbent co-workers who are 30pc better off.

Rugby tickets rip-off

Itook a notion and ventured down to the RDS for Leinster's Pro 12 match against Ulster. What a shocker to find bog standard tickets cost €62 or €33 to get drenched in the open North/South stands. Posters advertise €20 prices for the December 19 Toulon Aviva match. I didn't expect to pay three times as much for worse fare. I quipped to the innocent young cashier "I wasn't looking for three tickets".

The game turned out to be a poor dour affair, with all the excitement that attends a scoreless second half. Leinster eventually won; rewarding my odds-on punt. But my first visit this season will chiefly be memorable for the unrecognisable atmosphere, a far cry from the heady days when domestic league and European trophies were confidently anticipated. The European Champions Cup market is beginning to expose the dawning realisation that Irish involvement could be an irrelevance: Munster 20/1; Ulster 100/1 and Leinster 125/1.

Bar murmurs have it that the head coach Leo Cullen could be "another Steve Staunton" i.e. a fantastic stalwart player - but a rookie manager. There was also even worse whispering that there is an expectation that Ian Madigan is for export. As a natural out-half, he's forced to play either out of position or dependent on Sexton's absence.

And the rumour-mill also throws up the prospect that Sean O'Brien won't renew his contract. This time out the chances of his playing abroad seem credible. In the past reticence may be viewed as a negotiating tactic; his big pay days won't last forever. On the bright side though the Academy is delivering some real talent through scrum-half Luke McGrath, flanker Josh Van Flier and Gary Ringrose. Robbie Henshaw looks likely to join Leinster (agent dad knows best) as Ben Teo's contract expires.

The core issues that need tackling are: pay ceilings for clubs in France is €12m; in England it's €9m. Provinces can't compete, despite IRFU contracts. England's Eddie Jones may yet revise strict prohibition on overseas professionals in the national team. Wales, Australia and Ireland permit same; so there is no downside to foreign club careers. Adios blue amigos.

Get on Andy Murray

The bet of year: 10/11 Andy Murray to win BBC Sports Personality of 2015. A little birdie whispered to me. The event is being screened live on Sunday, December 20. Of the 12 named nominees, the Scottish tennis star has the best credentials. He recently personally delivered the Davis Cup for the Brits, the first time since 1936. Expect him to confidently defeat athlete Jessica Ennis, Tyson Fury and the rest. Get on quick.

Irish Independent

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