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Tuesday 21 November 2017

'Pay up or face consequences' - President of union warns government of coordinated industrial action by all public servants

Warning ahead of crucial new talks

Photo: PA
Photo: PA

Anne-Marie Walsh

THE President of a union has warned the government to "pay up or face the consequences" of coordinated industrial action by all public servants ahead of crucial new talks.

Civil, Public and Services Union President Ann McGee demanded pay rises on top of wage increases that are seen as the restoration of pay cuts suffered during the recession.

Speaking this morning at the union's annual delegate conference in Killarney, she said the patience of its 13,000 members is "threadbare" as they enter talks next month on a pay deal to succeed the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

She accused the government of being "hell bent on replicating the mistakes of the past" in the property market.

"This conference has a significant role to play in driving our campaign for fairness and a real pay increase in the talks due to begin in May," she said.

"Let us not shirk the message. Pay up or face the consequences – consequences that include co-ordinated industrial action by all public service unions. We have been patient but that patience is now threadbare."

She said the union welcomed the government decision to bring forward a pay rise due under the Lansdowne Road Agreement to April 1 this year - from next September.

This was to compensate public servants who signed up to the deal who did not get the benefits of a €50m pay package given to gardaí to call off strikes.

However, she described the payment as a "down payment" of full restoration of pay. She said it is "not enough to address the imbalance" caused by the garda deals brokered late last year.

Ms McGee said there is an unquestionable moral justification for the pension levy to be removed and pay to be fully restored to members earning less than €38,000 at the talks.

But she said any new deal must go further and give "real" pay increases, especially to those on lower starting points on salary scales introduced during the financial crisis.

She said members want the removal of unpaid additional hours being worked as they amounted to an "effective 6pc pay cut".

They were told the last year was a period of recovery but you would not think that at meetings at a General Council with their employer, she added.

"Government ministers may talk about recovery, about turning the corner but their representatives on earth at General Council don’t seem to have heard the message," she said.

"We continue to have to battle on even the smallest of issues while management returns to the table relentlessly proposing more changes to our agreements and working conditions."

She said while the government talks up recovery there is much evidence that there are two sections in society - a small elite who have and an ever growing majority of citizens who have not.

Ms McGee asked what a recovery means if more families are becoming homeless and debts are being passed on to vulture funds. "Even people with decent incomes cannot afford to rent where they need to live," she said.

She said lack of common sense by the government on housing and homelessness "only highlights the constant tendency of politicians to talk their way around a situation".

"People are not stupid," she said.

"The key word used by the government is 'supply', which we are constantly told can only be met by 'the market'. However, the market assumes most people can afford to rent or buy but realistically many cannot."

She said a simple answer to the housing shortage would be for the state to build social housing in significant quantities.

"As the Irish economy returns to growth, we must ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated if we are to build a society on the principles of equality and fairness," she said. "Has all the pain suffered by ordinary people in servicing bank debt and meeting the crippling IMO and EU austerity programmes been in vain?" she asked.

She said the union recognised the urgent need to manage its financial resources more tightly and step up recruitment after losing 1,200 staff officer members and their subscriptions worth €500,000.

The staff officer grade has been integrated into the executive officer grade and no longer exists. The former staff officers are now represented by another union.

However, she said there is unfinished business for lower grade clerical officers, who sought the ring fencing of extra promotions to compensate for the loss of staff officer opportunities. She said the union will not rest until these claims are dealt with.

"The recruitment of members is critical to our survival and – most importantly – for our ability to be successful in dealing with our employers," she said.

Meanwhile, the CPSU is due to ballot on proposals later this year to form one union of over 80,000 members by joining forces with the Public Service Executive Union and Impact.

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