Could you do without your union dues?
The cost of your trade union membership is going up by almost €70 this year. Is it just a waste of money, asks Louise McBride
NOT only have the recession, budget cutbacks and higher taxes forced many of us to forget about our sun holiday this year -- more than 100,000 of us can't even afford to pay our electricity or gas bills.
Despite this, many of us are forking out a few hundred euro a year to be in a trade union. Furthermore, as the tax relief on trade union subscriptions was abolished earlier this month, the cost of your trade union membership will go up by as much as €70 this year.
If your union means nothing more to you than boring meetings and a magazine which comes in the post every so often (which you fall asleep reading), it could be time to put that few hundred euro you pay to your union each year back into your pocket.
It's about two years since teachers picketed the headquarters of Anglo Irish Bank to vent their anger about the public sector pension levy.
This would be the first of many teacher protests against the pension levy, which cut their pay by up to 10.5 per cent. Despite union action, teachers have had to live with the pension levy -- as well as further pay cuts.
Teachers taking up jobs this year will be paid up to €6,000 less than those who started jobs in 2010 -- because of the 10 per cent cut in public service starter salaries announced by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan last month. There have also been painful staff cutbacks in schools over the last couple of years.
It would be no surprise therefore if many teachers were wondering whether the few hundred euro paid to their union each year is simply money down the drain. The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO), which represents over 31,000 primary school teachers in the Republic, usually charges permanent full-time teachers €386.10 a year for membership.
Secondary school teachers pay €340.60 a year to join the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI).
As well as the employment support, protection and information which teachers' unions say they provide, members are entitled to "soft" benefits such as insurance and other discounts. ASTI members, for example, can get a 10 per cent discount off VHI Healthcare premiums -- but anyone can get that 10 per cent discount if they buy their insurance online.
The INTO website lists a number of hotel offers under its "member benefits". The website recently quoted a mid-week rate of €125 per person sharing for two nights bed and breakfast in Hotel Kilkenny. Hotel Kilkenny is still quoting that mid-week rate on its own website -- and you don't have to be an INTO member to get it.
Last February, Bank of Scotland Ireland announced that it would be pulling its retail arm, Halifax, out of Ireland with the loss of 750 jobs. The bank's trade union, Unite, vowed that it would fight to save the 750 jobs. By June, those jobs had been lost and Ireland's Halifax branches had all closed.
Also in June, Unite argued a case in the High Court on behalf of workers in the Central Bank. Unite argued that Central Bank workers should be exempt from the pensions levy because they made their own contributions to a fully funded pension fund for which the State was not responsible. The challenge was not successful -- so staff there have had to grin and bear the pension levy.
Full-time workers in the Central Bank would save themselves €171.60 a year if they cancelled their union membership. A spokesman for Unite said that as well as representation in the workplace, the union offers "reduced rate car, home, travel and health insurance, as well as legal advice on a range of subjects in and outside the workplace".
"Reduced" rates aren't always the cheapest rates though. Unite members, for example, can buy annual worldwide multi-trip travel insurance for their family for €75. You can get similar cover elsewhere for less. For example, it costs €49.47 to buy multitrip.com's Premier worldwide family travel insurance policy if you have private health insurance -- or about €64 without private health insurance. You don't have to be a member of a union to get the multitrip.com rates. The Irish Bank Officials Association (IBOA) represents workers in the financial services sector including staff in AIB and Bank of Ireland. Full-time workers pay €301.92 a year to be in the IBOA -- though some full-time workers who have been with the union for less than 10 years get a cheaper rate.
Members get the IBOA's magazine, Spectrum, in the post every three months -- but then again, anyone who really wants to can read this magazine on the IBOA website.
IBOA spokesman Seamus Sheils said that unions are important "in these more trying times". "By accident or design, management may end up taking shortcuts," says Sheils. "If there are redundancies coming up, the union can negotiate on the terms of those redundancies. It will also negotiate what happens to the staff who are left behind.
"The union spends a lot of time on personal cases. Some employers may be using a disciplinary tactic as an alternative to a redundancy so that the employer would not have to pay compensation."
Aer Lingus cabin crew, recently taken off the payroll for not agreeing to new rosters, are represented by Impact.
It costs 0.8 per cent of salary (up to a maximum salary of €44,800) to join Impact. So the most you'd pay to be a member is about €358 a year. Impact also represents civil servants and public sector workers in health and education.
Impact spokesman Bernard Harbor said people should hold onto their union membership as "they may need the protection of their union at a time when there are threats to their job, income and pension".
"Everyone in a union has their pay and working conditions negotiated by a union," says Harbor. "Our members have sustained pay decreases of 14 per cent on overage over the last 18 months. We have got a commitment that there will be no more reductions in their pay."
This commitment may not be enough for the tens of thousands of workers now broke as a result of the pay cuts -- or indeed those in the Health Service Executive who are out of work after accepting voluntary redundancy.
NURSES, BUILDERS & POSTMEN
You need to be on big bucks to be in the Irish Medical Organisation -- consultants pay between €804 and €1,242 a year to be in this union, while GPs pay between €723 and €1,242 a year.
Full-time nurses pay €306 a year to join the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation while nurses in private nursing homes pay €228 a year.
Siptu members, which include builders and council workers, pay up to €244.40 a year to be in the union. Unemployed members pay about €16 a year to be in Siptu.
Your local postman pays 0.62 per cent of his wage to be in the Public Service Executive Union. Journalists working in a national newspaper pay €350.80 a year to be in the National Union of Journalists -- or less if their salary is under €35,000.
Sunday Indo Business