Unions on collision course over 'majority' plan to back pay deal
Smaller groups who vote 'no' demand to be left out of reform programme
AN inter-union row is brewing after it was confirmed a majority vote by the ICTU Public Services Committee will seal a new deal with the Government.
Committee secretary Tom Geraghty said the ballot to decide if the draft public service agreement was brought in would not have to be backed by each individual union.
He said the decision would probably be based on the scale of each union's membership, which is likely to mean the votes of all members are counted and a single result declared.
But union members opposed to the deal last night said such an aggregate vote would be "completely unacceptable" and vowed to continue their campaign of industrial action against pay cuts. They fear the deal will tie public servants into wide-ranging government reform plans even if their union rejects it.
However, the leadership of SIPTU, which has 70,000 public-sector members, has given a clear indication that it may recommend the deal negotiated at Croke Park last week.
General president Jack O'Connor said he did not think further industrial action would yield what those opposed to the proposals believed it would. He questioned whether it would be better to "fight on" when industrial action would be seen as an attack on the public.
Union gains in the draft deal that was brokered at Croke Park last week include a guarantee that public servants' pay will not be cut for four years.
It also means they could have lost wages refunded during yearly reviews from next spring if an independent body verifies that they have delivered savings through reforms.
The trade-off for the Government includes a major reform programme to 'transform' the public sector. Among the reforms is a requirement that teachers work an extra hour a week, a plan to move public servants to busy and understaffed areas, and a longer working week in the health sector.
A branch of the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) will table a motion at its conference this week seeking to have its members excluded from the terms of the proposed agreement if they turn it down.
TUI Dublin City Post-Primary Branch member Finbar Geaney said his union would strongly oppose an aggregate vote. "If a majority of members of the TUI reject the proposals then they cannot be imposed within the sector in which TUI members work," he said.
"Neither ICTU nor its Public Services Committee has competence to discuss the working conditions of teachers, let alone agree a settlement.
"Should ICTU endeavour to impose the Government's plan on TUI members there will be widespread resistance across those areas of education and training in which TUI members work."
He claimed the Government was relying on ICTU leaders to assist cutbacks in public services.
TUI general secretary Peter McMenamin said his members were prepared to escalate industrial action after the union's executive rejected the deal.
Mr Geraghty, who is general secretary of the Public Service Executive Union, which is recommending the deal, admitted "nobody is dancing a jig of delight" at the outcome of the talks.
He said only "time will tell" if the Government could live up to its guarantee not to cut public-sector pay again, as it has a "get-out clause" in the event of another economic shock.
However, he said the deal was the best that could be achieved and warned the only alternative was "a major industrial conflict".
"The Government isn't going to make an agreement with individual unions," he said. "It wants to make an agreement with the public services committee. We have to decide in precise terms the decision making mechanism," he said.
"It's reasonably clear based on precedent that what we will do is we will make a decision based on the majority at the Public Services Committee."