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Union warns of all-out public sector strike as go-slow starts

The national go-slow got underway with one union warning that all-out public sector strikes are still on the table.

Tens of thousands of public servants began a work-to-rule protest today -- sticking rigidly to their terms of contract and refusing to show any flexibility in the performance of their duties.

The move has led the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) to warn that "gridlock" is looming, unless a quick solution can be found.

Workers in health, education, prisons, local authorities and government departments are all involved in the action, after the Budget cut their salaries by between 5pc and 15pc.

The chance of a last-minute resolution evaporated last night as Tanaiste Mary Coughlan warned that there could be no guarantees against further pay cuts for 2011 and 2012.

This morning SIPTU's Jack O'Connor said he didn't believe there was "any necessity whatsoever for this row".

But he accused the Government of sabotaging a union plan to create €900m worth of saving through restructuring of the public sector operations.

"It was sabotaged because it [the union proposal] got in the way of a pay-cutting agenda across the economy," he said.

Mr O'Connor added that the work-to-rule would not be stopped unless there was a suspension of the pay cuts introduced on January 1.

Today's action sees workers such as nurses and midwives showing up for work as normal, but refusing to cover for gaps created by vacant posts.

Not all unions have signed up for the campaign yet, but it is likely that most will have joined by the end of next month.

The scenario of widespread inefficiency is causing major concern for the LRC which last night offered to intervene in the row.

Kieran Mulvey, chief executive of the LRC, said the country was entering an unprecedented period of industrial action.

"We are effectively playing by no rules and that is my concern," Mr Mulvey said on RTE's The Week in Politics.

Crucial

"Will we spend the next 12 months ... as a boxing referee between employers and trade unions, while they punch themselves to death over 15 rounds? That is not our function," he said.

The Government's reaction to the action will be crucial.

Speculation that the Department of Finance could hit back by refusing to facilitate the deduction of union fees from wages appears to be unfounded.

Another possibility is that the Government could restrict the funding it gives to unions.

SIPTU warned today that any confrontational reaction from Government would be met with further action.

Arguing that most of his 70,000 members have an appetite for strike action, Mr O'Connor said: "The presumption that people who work in public services will roll over is a very dangerous presumption indeed."


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