Sunday 8 December 2019

Recession victims fall prey to union action

One victim of the public sector dispute explained her plight to Jerome Reilly, who outlines how the industrial action will hit others in the weeks ahead

IN ONE public sector office, they have taken to wrapping a heavy elastic band tightly around their phone receiver and handset so workers can't inadvertently answer when it rings during their work stoppages.

There is no definitive list of when and where public sector workers will down tools, according to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Decisions about the time and location of actions are taken "locally", according to Congress. And the unspoken subtext is that actions with no advance notice cause maximum inconvenience and so are more effective.

It is not just inconvenience that is being caused, but outright hardship.

Derry Ann Morgan from Navan, who lost her job because of the recession, received no job seeker's allowance last week. The reason she had no money to live on was because of the work-to-rule policies carried out by staff in Navan and Swords. When she tried to transfer her payment from one office to the other, she fell victim to the most insidious form of industrial action -- not communicating important information to the public.

"The reason why I had no money was because of the blatant withholding of information regarding social welfare procedures," she says. She had to make trips to Swords from Navan, spending scant resources on petrol and parking, to be met with a blank stare.

"It was only when I refused to leave the Swords social welfare office last Thursday that I found the real reason why I could get no payment. I was very upset at the nonchalant attitude when they told me I would not be receiving any money until the following Tuesday.

"Do these cold calculating civil servants realise the pain, hurt, strain and hardship they are causing to those who have lost their jobs? Can you imagine the outcry there would be if one of the staff members in any social welfare office found they were not paid one week and there was nothing they could do about it?" she said.

"I was very, very upset. After it finished, I ran into Swords credit union in a bit of a state and they were so nice to me."

Derry Ann is not alone. Many victims of the recession in the private sector are now becoming victims of the public sector's war on pay cuts. The owners of many businesses that have gone to the wall paid out redundancy money to their former employees at the time the business failed. But thousands of business people who paid out redundancy cheques are still waiting for the 60 per cent rebate from the Department of Enterprise.

A spokesperson for the Department said for the most part, the main reason for the delays was simply the volume of work as thousands of businesses had collapsed last year.

"We are currently processing claims submitted by post or manually dating back to July 2009. For rebate claims filed online, we are currently processing claims received in August 2009," the spokeswoman said.

But she confirmed that the public sector industrial action was a further cause of delays.

"As in all areas of the civil service where work-to-rule measures are being implemented, the section is impacted by the lack of availability of some additional staff resources assigned on a part-time basis from other sections of the department to work in the section," she said.

The Department remains very concerned at the levels of delays which businesses continue to experience awaiting for rebate payments and is seeking to have further staff resources allocated to the area.

While the crisis in the passport office continues, there are numerous other minor industrial actions around the country.

And in the coming weeks schools, hospitals, the courts and local authorities will all be hit by action by many of the 300,000 workers in the public sector. Some of the actions will include rolling hourly and one-day strikes.

There have been delays in processing car-scrappage scheme rebates and delays in registering new cars, but far more serious will be the planned stoppage at seven Dublin hospitals involving support staff next month as part the escalation in the unions' action against Government pay cuts.

About 4,500 Siptu members will down tools from 1pm on Wednesday, April 7 until 1am on Friday, April 9.

The stoppages will involve porters, catering personnel, security, healthcare assistants and supervisors at Beaumont, the Mater, Tallaght, St Vincent's, St James's, Blanchardstown, and St Columcille's in Loughlinstown. Low-level action is also expected for ambulance services in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow.

Education unions plan to close schools for half or full days on a county or region-by-region basis and in heath, there will be further disruption caused by two-hour work to rules. Even the National Library has been hit by lightning stoppages while gardai, who are not allowed to strike, will refuse to use their own mobile phones and computers.

Revenue and Social and Family Affairs could also be affected. The threat of industrial action in administering social welfare payments would be a disaster for the vulnerable.

In the Oireachtas, phone and email services have been disrupted and workers are refusing to handle parliamentary questions, speeches and ministerial reports. They are being particularly difficult with Government TDs, one of whom is now advising constituents with pressing problems to approach his Fine Gael opponent in the constituency because he may have more hope in getting answers.

Sunday Independent

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