Wednesday 22 November 2017

Revealed: Unions want €1,000 rise for all workers

Furious business groups accuse workers' unions of 'collusion' and 'crude opportunism'

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Arthur Carron
Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Arthur Carron

Niall O'Connor, Kevin Doyle and Anne-Marie Walsh

Unions are to demand a pay increase of €1,000 for the average worker, in a move that employers claim will create industrial chaos.

In an announcement that took the Government by surprise, union bosses said they wanted wage hikes of at least 4pc for private sector workers from January.

It came as Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe told the Cabinet that he wanted to stick to the timelines set out in the Lansdowne Road Agreement for pay restoration in the public sector.

However, sources say that while he is refusing to budge for now, it is "only a matter of time" before he announces pay talks for next year.

And the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) is now ramping up pressure for pay increases in the private sector.

"We believe these demands are fair, reasonable and will stand up to scrutiny," ICTU official John Douglas told the Irish Independent.

The dramatic pay claims emerged as public sector unions prepared to meet in Belfast today to escalate their campaign for faster pay restoration.

While the Government has stood firm against Siptu's ultimatum that fresh pay talks must be announced by tomorrow, it now appears likely that the Lansdowne Road Agreement will have to be renegotiated next year.

At a meeting between ICTU and Government officials yesterday, it was agreed that a "collective approach" to pay remains the aim.

Business and employer groups reacted furiously to the demands of a 4pc pay hike across the board and accused unions of "crude opportunism".

Ibec chief executive Danny McCoy said that businesses could not accept what he described as a "one size fits all" deal for the private sector.

He also suggested that there had been "collusion" between union bosses, saying that the private sector unions "are leading with 4pc" so that the public sector ones can follow with a similar demand.

"Around 25pc of private sector companies never stopped paying increases throughout the crisis. There hasn't been a freeze in the private sector," Mr McCoy said.

Meanwhile, figures released by ISME yesterday showed that while the majority of its members intended to increase pay next year, only a small number of firms said they were in a position to match the demands of private sector unions. Some 40pc of ISME members stated they were not paying any increase next year, while 45pc are paying between 0.5-5pc.

ISME CEO Neil McDonnell said his members dealing in sterling were particularly worried as a result of this latest challenge in terms of pay.

"The old rules don't apply anymore. The notion we can avoid a free-for-all by imposing a 4pc pay increase across the board is not realistic," Mr McDonnell told this newspaper.

But union bosses insisted that private sector workers had taken a major hit in their incomes and that 2017 was the year for it to be restored.

ICTU said the pay claims were due to be lodged from January 1 across all unionised firms. Special cases may be made in relation to firms who cannot afford to meet the 4pc demands. But in cases where firms who cannot afford refuse to do so, workers may embark on industrial action.

The Financial Services Union, which has over 15,000 members, said banks are in profitability and that this is significant in relation to their demands.

"There have been significant job losses at the banks and no increments for a considerable time, while hours at AIB have risen from 35 to 37 a week," said general secretary Larry Broderick. "But the banks are back in profitability and the technology and services sector are more buoyant," he added.

In the Dáil, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said there should be "fairness across the board for every worker in the country".

"We require a well-managed process that can look at the broader context of where the country now is and where we think it can be in five or 10 years' time," he said.

Irish Independent

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