Posted tagged ‘SIPTU’

Croke Park, what now?

June 21, 2010

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.

Public service agreement: which way will it go?

April 15, 2010

It is hard to call how the voting by trade union members on the Public Service Agreement will go. But if we focus specifically on unions organising in the higher education sector, there is something of a divergence of views. The executive of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) has recommended that members (who will be voting on April 24) should reject the agreement, principally because of the provisions (in the appended sectoral agreement) on employment contracts. More than that, the union has declared that if members vote to reject the agreement, but a majority of public service unions vote in favour, IFUT will not see itself bound to follow the majority verdict.

On the other hand the country’s largest trade union SIPTU, which organises in a number of the universities (including DCU), has recommended acceptance of the agreement, arguing that the agreement, while not perfect, is the best that members can expect at this time and that it will protect pay and conditions.

It seems to me that the future of the agreement is on a knife edge. It is also clear that the provisions in the sectoral agreement on higher education have not helped, as they show little understanding of the sector. On the other hand, rejection of the agreement will create an extremely uncertain national climate in which we would have to expect further cuts and, in all probability, unilateral government action regarding higher education funding and governance.  None of this is made easier by the fact that the universities are far removed from the negotiations and have had no influence over the terms of the agreement.

There is no easy way forward. One way or another, there are interesting times ahead.

Stand down the mob

October 13, 2009

In a press release issued yesterday, the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) criticised what it described as the ‘Government policy of imposing the entire burden of fiscal adjustment on working people and the less well-off, while the wealthy are insulated from any requirement to contribute at all.’ All of this serves as a prelude to their campaign to bring about a change of government policy, to reverse public service cuts and to protect public sector pay.

But for the moment I am not concerned with the justifiability or otherwise of any SIPTU campaign. Indeed, I am not particularly meaning to have a go at SIPTU specifically, but I am wondering about the rhetoric which has become more and more common and of which the quote above is fairly typical. Alongside this are the increasingly wild campaigns of personal criticism directed against property developers, bankers, politicians and businesspeople. While I would certainly not wish to defend those who have abused their positions, wealth or power, we have reached the point at which lynch mobs are being sent out the moment a politician is seen in the vicinity of Dublin airport.

If we are to achieve a speedy recovery from our current problems, we need to stop this hysteria. The government may be good or bad (and I have’t been too impressed of late), but it certainly doesn’t have a policy of ‘imposing the entire burden’ on working people. NAMA may be right or wrong, but its purpose is not to protect miscreant bankers – it is to allow the financial system to provide the necessary service to those who need finance. Politicians may all too often have abused the system, but it is not a sign of national decay and corruption if a minister goes on a business trip to London and stays in a hotel rather than sleep in a doorway. PAYE taxpayers may well be destined to pay more tax to help restore public finances, but some of these are quite well off, and those who are well off are being asked to pay more. Not every senior public figure has behaved like Rody Molloy. And while John O’Donoghue did, in my opinion, need to step down because his expenses really were way out of line, even he should have been given an opportunity to state his case before somebody started fixing the rope to the tree.

We have got ourselves into a condition of frenzy, and this is doing us no good at all. Maybe the next campaign should be one to combat righteous indignation and to restore a sense of proportion to our state of mind. We need to think and act rationally at this point, and to stop baying for blood all the time. And we need to be careful that we do not create an atmosphere in which entrepreneurship and wealth creation are seen as wicked, because once we have got to that point we are throttling our best hopes of recovery.

Frankly, it’s time to calm down.