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1 June 2006 Edition

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Media View by John O'Brien

Indo blames the workers - again!

It was worth looking at the different ways the 'quality' papers treated this week's main news story - the national partnership and pay talks.

The Irish Times, which arrogantly calls itself "the paper of record", led with the straightforward headline "Employers and union differences deadlock pay talks". Pretty clear and straightforward.

The Irish Examiner took a more urgent approach: "Time running out for pay deal". But, true to form, the Irish Independent adopted a put-the-boot-in partisan style, laying the blame - if blame there is - squarely on the shoulders of the unions! Tony O'Reilly - sorry, Sir Anthony O'Reilly - must have chuckled over his cornflakes when he read the headline "Employers face down pay ultimatum from unions".

And what was the 'ultimatum' that the employers 'faced down'? Well, it appears that the unions asked the employers to stop waffling around in generalities and make a concrete pay offer in response to the unions' demand.

It's clear from the tone of the Indo's piece that the employers made no such offer, but did the unions then give it all up and beg for settlement on the bosses' terms? If not, in what way exactly did the employers "face" the unions down?

There are three aspects to this. First of all, of course, the Indo is reassuring the small business owners, especially in the country, that the pass has not been sold and that IBEC is keeping the red hordes (not to mention the yellow peril) at bay.

Secondly, there is the implication that the unions are a weak, floundering lot, certainly not worth the risk of any worker putting his trust in them. If this was their best shot, the implication goes, then the game is really up. Don't bother to fight any more.

But it's the third aspect that intrigues me, and that is the man whose name is put to the Indo stor is a brother of ICG Director Peter Crowley.

Flynn was restored to his position when the Irish Ferries dispute was over, but a nod was as good as a wink to the wise. Nothing was said, but nothing needed to be said.

Flynn's coverage of the pay talks, then, indicates that the lesson has been learned. Sir Anthony expects what Sir Anthony wants, and Sir Anthony gets just that.

It's possible, of course, that Flynn himself didn't actually write that story's first paragraph, that this was a sub-editor's change made to suit the prevailing Indo ethos. But I have listened in vain for any howl of outrage from Flynn about this, so whether or not he wrote it in the first place, in the end he has gone along with it.

It's easy to sneer, of course, but Flynn has a young family, and where would he turn to make an honest crust if the Indo gave him the boot. It's a real dilemma, but no dilemma for the Indo bosses who distort the news as it suits them, whenever it suits them.

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While I'm on the issue of the pay talks, the employers effort to offer concessions on pay if the unions would 'moderate' - lovely word that - their demands on employment protection was buried by every reporter.

A red-faced Flynn confined himself to reporting that the employers were looking for concessions from the unions on pay in consideration of the protection measures. The Times' Chris Dooley merely commented that the protection measures wouldn't be finalised or implemented until the pay terms were agreed, while RTÉ's Ingrid Miley politely reported that one suggestion for breaking the deadlock "might involve a trade off between pay increases and employment protection measures".

How is it that none of them could say out straight that IBEC are fighting a rearguard action against employment protection and that pay difficulties are only a smokescreen to cover their lust for exploiting the weakest and most defenceless?

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