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Friday 13 December 2019

Unions' bid to get pay rise is 'madness' – business group

Mark Fielding, chief executive of ISME
Mark Fielding, chief executive of ISME

Anne-Marie Walsh, Industry Correspondent

A BUSINESS group has described a major union drive for pay rises as "madness" as the country is barely out of economic "intensive care".

The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) said it was too early to be talking about wage increases as the Government is still borrowing heavily and inflation is close to zero.

"It's way, way, too early for this," said chief executive Mark Fielding, whose organisation represents over 9,000 firms.

"We were in intensive care for two and-a-half years with the troika. We got out of the intensive care unit in December but are still in the observation ward and the trade unions are already looking for more money."

Mr Fielding said there was a lot of "claim jumping" going on after SIPTU general secretary Jack O'Connor called for pay rises in the private sector.

This followed the Public Service Executive Union urging the Government to give public servants refunds of pay cuts, rather than cutting taxes, when exchequer funds recover.

"If the Government can do something, it should do something on the tax front, to give workers a few extra shillings, but the PSEU don't want this," said Mr Fielding. "They're supposed to be public servants."

In a survey of ISME members, 80pc said they were unable to afford any wage increases this year, while those returning to profit said they were more likely to hire new staff.

Mr Fielding said those employers who would give wage increases would give modest pay rises in the region of 2pc to 2.5pc and would expect work practice changes in return.

The Small Firms Association has also said that pay increases are "not a consideration" for its members at the moment.

However, IBEC, which represents larger companies, said half its members expected to give pay rises this year and next.

Unions, including SIPTU's manufacturing division, and the retail union Mandate, have been successful in winning modest pay rises in many workplaces.

Meanwhile, SIPTU president Jack O'Connor said his union had no intention of pitting public service workers and those in the private sector against each other in relation to pay increases.

His comments came after he told the Irish Independent that the private sector must be the first to benefit from pay rises "before (these are) extended to other areas, such as the public sector".

Mr O'Connor added: "I have always fought for unity among workers, irrespective as to the sector in which they might be employed, or whether they are unemployed for that matter."

He said increasing pay, so people will spend, was absolutely key to economic growth .

Irish Independent

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