For any non-Irish readers of this blog, I might just place this briefly in context. In March of this year the trade unions and the public sector employers reached an agreement on pay and conditions in the public service (after negotiations in the Croke Park stadium, hence the title). This agreement was subject to ratification by the trade unions, and the unions involved proceeded to organise ballots under their own rules and procedures. Fast forward to last week: the Public Services Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions ratified the agreement, by a substantial majority.
So all sweetness and light and industrial peace, then? Well maybe, or maybe it will be more complicated. Because while the unions have endorsed the deal, some individual ones have not. One of these is the Irish Federation of University Teachers, which voted against the agreement by a decisive margin. And then there was the Teachers Union of Ireland, which organises staff in the institutes of technology amongst others, and which also voted against. And the Education Branch of the union SIPTU (which organises academics in three universities and other staff in more of them) had recommended rejection, and would have achieved a vote accordingly but for DCU staff, who voted by a comfortable margin in favour and this just balanced the votes against in the other institutions.
But more than that, IFUT and the TUI have suggested that they don’t feel bound by the ratification by the ICTU overall, and will feel mandated to take action against the agreement if necessary (I guess in violation of normal trade union rules about respecting majority verdicts). So what should happen? I have myself suggested that the agreement, or more particularly its specific terms on higher education, is misguided and may produce some problems for the sector. On the other hand, the capacity of the universities to engage the politicians and convince them and other stakeholders that a different path to reform is better may be compromised if they have undermined the overall framework of industrial stability while we seek economic recovery. For that reason militant action against the agreement would be a very dangerous strategy to follow. While the public mood is still one of anger at the antics of those who helped push Ireland into deep recession, it does not follow that it favours those who create obstacles for recovery as they might see it. The public serice-wide action organised previously largely encountered public hostility. Reasoned debate will be better, and is actually more likely to get results.