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Light years on from cosy deals

When the Croke Park deal between the Fianna Fail-Green coalition and the public sector unions was hammered out in March 2010 the Taoiseach of the day, Brian Cowen, said it would transform the public service. The chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission, Kieran Mulvey, called it "revolutionary".

One year later, Mr Cowen left office amid the ruins of two collapsing parties. The revolution had not been completed. In fact, it had not begun. But since then, his Fine Gael and Labour successors have had the best part of a year in which at least to lay the foundations for modest reform. How have they fared?

Sad to relate, not very well. Indeed, not well at all. The latest twist in the FAS saga reveals a sorry spectacle.

It will be recalled that the State training agency, buffeted by several scandals and accused of spectacular waste of taxpayers' money, was moved by the incoming Government into a state of suspended animation, to be replaced by a new agency called Solas.

Workers still employed there are represented by SIPTU.

Since SIPTU is the biggest union in the country, the following words from the Croke Park Agreement will doubtless be familiar to many of its officials: "No cost-increasing claims from trade unions or employees for improvements in pay or conditions of employment will be made or pressed during the currency of the agreement."

Quite likely, one or more of them wrote these words. And if they did not write it, they certainly agreed to another proposition: "Both sides will maximise redeployment opportunities."

But as things have turned out, "maximise" is not the right word to apply to the redeployment of 1,700 high-ranking FAS staff.

SIPTU on their behalf has claimed parity of salary with civil servants in the Department of Social Protection, under whose aegis the FAS staff now work.

The difference is between €74,311 in FAS and €80,000 in Social Protection. As always, it is immensely difficult to squeeze out any information on the nature of the work involved.

Let us suppose -- to take the kindest view -- that the staff are struggling mightily to come out of the twilight zone and engage in constructive activity. That does not justify a salary of €80,000 a year. It does not suggest a full grasp of responsibility and authority on the union side.

Least of all does it inspire confidence that either the Government or the trade union movement has learned what a different world we now live in, light-years removed from the era of cosy deals masked by impenetrable language.

Irish Independent