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3 August 2006 Edition

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Sinn Féin calls for 'NO' vote on Towards 2016 deal

Arthur Morgan

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Workers' Rights, Arthur Morgan TD has called on workers to reject the proposed Towards 2016 Partnership Agreement, currently being voted on in unions across the 26 Counties. Deputy Morgan made his remarks following a decision by the party's Ard Chomhairle to call on Sinn Féin members and supporters to vote no in their respective unions.

Deputy Morgan said: "The decision on Towards 2016 rests with the membership of the trade union movement, but it is one that will shape the economy and society of this state and all of its citizens for the next ten years. Consequently, Sinn Féin believes it is necessary to place our views on the record in a manner that is both forthright, but also respectful of the independence of the trade union movement to make this decision.

"As a result of our analysis, we are therefore calling on all union members, but in particular Sinn Féin members and supporters, to vote 'No' to Towards 2016."

Deputy Morgan outlined seven key reasons for the party's decision:

o The deal is a spectacular failure for the low-paid workers who get a miserly half percent additional pay increase, an element of the deal described rightly by the ATGWU as 'particularly insulting'.

o The pay increases of 10% over 27 months barely keep pace with inflation currently running at 3.9% and rising. With house prices increasing at double figure rates and ESB and gas prices in the offing the proposed increases will be largely wiped out by inflation.

o Section 28.9 of Part II of the deal opens up the public sector to outsourcing with unions only having a right of notification. This will undermine the terms and conditions of public sector workers and could see them being replaced with non-union labour.

o While employers will still be empowered to claim 'inability to pay' due increases, union negotiators did not obtain an 'ability to pay' clause. There is no local bargaining power for workers in prosperous companies.

o The social commitments entered into through the Agreement are for the most part reheated statements of existing Government promises and pledges, some of which date from the Programme for Government, in which a similar level of faith should be put.

o Pay increases in the public sector are conditional on a range of productivity, flexibility and modernisation changes. Consequently, workers are obliged to give a blank cheque for their terms and conditions in order to secure wage increase that will be wiped out by inflation.

o The document endorses Public Private Partnerships and contains no check against ongoing Government privatisation plans. Indeed, the decision to announce the sale of Aer Lingus was made during the negotiations.

"We have listened to the arguments made by supporters of the Agreement, including those of ICTU General Secretary David Begg, writing in An Phoblacht last month," added Deputy Morgan.

"Sinn Féin notes that there are some positives in the deal and we welcome the increased commitments to monitoring of labour law and to increase the number of Labour Inspectors, though we are sceptical of the bona fides of the Government.

"But we do not believe the good in this outweighs the bad or the dangerous. Consequently, we are calling for a 'No' vote."

The final decision on the Agreement will be made on 5 September, where delegates from all affiliates to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions will attend a Special Delegate Conference. An Phoblacht's Justin Moran looks at the likely breakdown.

Voting Yes

The only union to confirm a yes vote so far is the Irish National Teachers Organisation whose members voted by the relatively narrow margin of 55:45 to accept Towards 2016.

The state's two biggest unions, the 200,000 strong SIPTU and the 55,000 strong IMPACT, whose strength is chiefly in the public services sector, are both likely to return strong yes votes. The National Executives in both unions have strongly endorsed the Agreement.

While anti-Partnership activists in SIPTU are reporting a positive response to their campaign, the reality is that the campaign within the union may not be large enough to get its message to all members. With so many members, entitling it to about a third of all delegates to the Conference, the votes of SIPTU members alone will be decisive.

The other main unions to back the Agreement are likely to be the Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) and the Communications Workers Union (CWU).

Voting No

The only union to ballot for a no vote so far is the 20,000 strong Irish Bank Officials Association (IBOA), where an overwhelming 95% vote was recorded rejecting Towards 2016. Two of the three teaching unions, the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) and the Teacher's Union of Ireland (TUI), with a combined membership of 30,000 will be balloting their members until September. With the leaderships in both unions calling for rejection, large no votes are likely.

Other unions likely to reject the deal include the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union (ATGWU), whose Regional Secretary Mick O'Reilly is one of the most high-profile critics of Social Partnership. The Civil, Public and Services Union (CPSU), whose 13,000 members, mostly low-paid clerical workers and civil servants with a tradition of militancy, should also vote no.

Two other large unions, the Irish Nurses Organisation with 31,000 members and the state's third largest union MANDATE, representing 41,000 bar workers and retail staff, have both already rejected the Partnership process and refused to be involved in the negotiations.

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