Thursday 27 October 2016

Autumn of discontent has not spilled into the private sector

Anne-Marie Walsh

Published 24/09/2016 | 02:30

The former Labour Party Minister of State, Ged Nash. Photo: Tom Burke
The former Labour Party Minister of State, Ged Nash. Photo: Tom Burke

Two years ago, the former Labour Party Minister of State, Ged Nash, predicted that 2015 would be the year of the pay rise. But it wasn't really. The pent-up frustration union leaders told us was about to erupt, after eight years of austerity and stagnant wages, into an explosion just didn't detonate.

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There have been numerous claims lodged across the private and public sectors but if anything, it has been a slow burn. Ibec says that three-quarters of its members are giving pay rises. But those who are receiving them are getting in the region of 1pc to 2pc if they're lucky. This has been the pay norm for Siptu's 45,000 members in the manufacturing sector, including workers at big pharma companies and members of retail union Mandate. A similar percentage is being paid out to public servants under the Lansdowne Road deal under the title of 'pay restoration'.

But earlier this year, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions advised union officials they should seek pay rises of between 2.5pc and 5pc in the private sector.

It did not get a lot of publicity at the time, but with hindsight, it probably should have.

The pay claim that woke us all up from the stupor of austerity earlier this year was lodged by the ICTU's most influential member, Siptu, on behalf of Luas drivers.

It demanded up to 54pc for drivers at the top end of the scale. It was so over the top that some of us thought we'd heard it wrong.

In terms of the bigger industrial relations picture, that claim was a victory. It has upped the ante for other workers since the tram drivers got a wage increase worth 3.8pc each year for four years.

It was not rocket science to work out that others in the transport sector would try their luck. At Dublin Bus, drivers' feelings were particularly raw as they discovered during the high-profile dispute that their pay was well below that of the tram drivers and unlike them, their employer was back in profit. Yet the Labour Court was only prepared to give them a 2.75pc-a-year increase.

Given that Bus Éireann has ruled out pay rises for its staff, it will be interesting to see what the Labour Court comes back with in relation to its pay claim. In the meantime, the public also faces the threat of school closures due to an ASTI dispute and industrial action by gardaí and ESB workers.

So far, the feature of all these disputes is that they are largely in the State sector. The momentum has not spilled into the private sector arena yet, possibly due to lower levels of union membership.

But even if the same level of industrial action does not spread, any victories for those already on the picket lines will eventually push up everybody's pay.

Irish Independent

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