Thursday 18 January 2018

Strikes to cause 'Christmas of discontent'

Katherine Donnelly and Alan O'Keeffe

FEARS of industrial action by secondary teachers, ESB and Aer Lingus workers threaten to mire the Government in a 'Christmas of discontent'.

As unions at the ESB and Aer Lingus draw up plans for industrial action, fresh talks that may have a bearing on whether teachers decide to continue with their dispute get under way today.

The new talks concern Junior Cert reform and are taking place as the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) prepares for another crucial ballot of members.

If ASTI members vote no, it could lead to even worse disruption in schools in the new year.

Such disruption would add to the Government's industrial relations headaches as it hopes to avoid a nightmare scenario of power cuts and flight cancellations at Christmas.

Strike notice at the ESB will be served on Friday and then unions will elect 'dispute committees' to chose what type of industrial action to begin on December 16.

Union members are trying to force the energy company to do more to address the €1.6bn deficit in its pension scheme.

The group of unions secretary Brendan Ogle said the company must make up the shortfall. ESB chief executive Pat O'Doherty and senior directors are set to meet union chiefs on Thursday in a bid to break the deadlock. But Mr Ogle has expressed his frustration that this meeting is yet to be confirmed.

"This circus has gone on for a week now. I had journalists yesterday on the phone to me complaining that the ESB won’t answer questions," he said.

"It takes two people to have a row. ESB have not confirmed as of now that they will meet us on Thursday and the media haven’t even asked them why."

CONCERNS

Huge underfunding in pensions is also at the heart of the dispute at Aer Lingus where the Siptu union is planning to begin balloting for industrial action.

Separately, Department of Education officials are meeting today with representatives of the ASTI and the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI), to explore how concerns about changes to the Junior Cycle can be addressed.

The talks may give pointers to what teachers can expect from a Working Group on Junior Cert reform that is being set up.

The ASTI, the only union to reject the Haddington Road Agreement on pay and productivity in the public service, has been involved in industrial action since early October.

Its ban on meetings outside working hours has led to the cancellation of parent-teacher meetings or school closures to allow parents to meet teachers during the school day.

Recent talks between the union and Department of Education led to revised proposals on Haddington Road, which are being put in a new ballot of 17,000 ASTI members shortly.

The ASTI executive has recommended a "no" vote and if that happens it will set the stage for continuation of the dispute into the new year.

Irish Independent

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