| 10.3°C Dublin

Passport row to spread over pay threat

UNIONS have warned that there could be widespread disruption if the Government follows through with plans to dock Passport Office workers' pay.

The Department of Foreign Affairs wrote to employees at the Passport Office yesterday and outlined that they may not be paid if they refuse to carry out their duties.

There is now a backlog of 40,000 unprocessed passports and the average waiting period has almost doubled to 20 days.

But the Civil and Public Service Union (CPSU) has thrown down the gauntlet to the Government and has warned of potential strike action at the office.

The leader of the CPSU, Blair Horan, responded to the department's notice by saying the workers could react negatively over suggestions of docking wages.

"If you don't pay people, people will strike," Mr Horan said.

And there are fears that any strike could draw in the other 13,000 CPSU members right across the public sector.

But the union is refusing to call an end to the action at the Passport Office in Dublin following a second day of chaotic scenes at Molesworth Street.

The go-slow, in protest at the public service pay cuts, was compounded when unions said that a printing machine which had been damaged in a flood caused further delays.

Rowdy scenes broke out at the city centre offices yesterday as queues of irate customers waited at the office for their travel documents. Some claimed customers had been told only those who had suffered a bereavement and needed to travel would be fast-tracked.


The CPSU, which represents lower-paid public-sector, said that there is confusion among Passport Office staff about why their pay would be docked -- whether it was if they engaged in a work to rule or did not man public counters.

Union sources said they would wait for full clarification later today but were unsure if any strike could draw in other CPSU members across the public sector.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin has already appealed for the industrial action to be called off.

"It has brought misery for many people who simply wanted the state to provide them with travel documents," the minister said."The current action is absolutely unnecessary and will not help to progress anything, or help to resolve any situation."

Fine Gael spokesman for foreign affairs, Billy Timmins, said it was "intolerable" that hundreds of people had been left queuing today for a document to which they were constitutionally entitled too.

"The minister must act and do so without further delay, with 40,000 passport application in the current backlog, the situation is now critical," he said. And Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said people were suffering.

"I think the best action for the union would be to suspend the

action, restore good will and allow people to travel as planned."