7 September 2006 Edition

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Nuacht na nOibrithe

BY Justin Moran

o ICTU General Secretary, David Begg speaking at The Irish Congress of Trade Unions meeting which formally ratified the new partnership agreement, 'Towards 2016'

Towards 2016 endorsed as Mandate and INO boycott conference

The Towards 2016 Social Partnership deal has been endorsed by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions by a margin of 242 to 84 at a Special Delegate Conference which took place on Tuesday. While the margin is disappointing to those, including Sinn Féin, who called for rejection of the deal, approximately 50 delegates for Mandate and the Irish Nurses Organisation who would have been likely to oppose the deal did not take part in the Conference.

The decision was never really in doubt after the five largest unions in the state - SIPTU, Impact, TEEU, Amicus and the INTO - backed the deal, though in INTO's case by a very narrow margin.

A number of unions voted to oppose the agreement, including the ATGWU, two of the three teaching unions (the TUI and the ASTI), the Irish Bank Officials Association and the Civil and Public Service Union, which represents the lower grades in the civil service.

Mandate, with over 40,000 mostly low-paid workers, and the INO boycotted the conference. The former had withdrawn from negotiations earlier in the year because of the failure of Social Partnership to deliver for the low-paid, while the INO decided not to attend while awaiting a Labour Court verdict on a current pay claim.

While there are positive elements of the deal - including commitments to better monitoring of labour law, increased protections for workers and more Labour Inspectors - overall the implications of the agreement for workers are negative. Increasing costs and inflation rates are vindicating Sinn Féin's argument that the 10% pay increase over 27 months will be wiped out by inflation. The claim that the unions can influence government policy through the process is exposed by the decision to privatise Aer Lingus and by commitments to Private/Public Partnership in the deal.

Speaking after the decision was announced, Sinn Féin Social Affairs spokesperson Seán Crowe gave his reaction.

"While I am disappointed at the result of today's ballot, Sinn Féin has always respected the fact that this is a decision for the trade union members themselves, while believing we had a duty to outline our position," he pointed out.

"Whatever one's position on Towards 2016, the vote today means an end to the debate on whether to accept it or not. In order to advance the interests of Irish workers, fight for improved public services and defend democratically-owned industry, it is necessary for both sides of the debate to work together against those determined to privatise our social services and profit from the exploitation of workers."

Victory for Drogheda Hospital workers

In a judgement that may have repercussions throughout the 26 County health service, the Labour Court announced this week that it was recommending an increase in the number of domestic staff at Drogheda Hospital. The verdict came in the wake of threatened strike action by the 360 ATGWU members at the hospital.

The recommendation stands in contrast to Minister for Health Mary Harney's cap on recruitment of new personnel and, according to ATGWU spokesperson Colm Kinsella, exposes this controversial measure as unworkable by calling for two new six-strong cleaning units and extra staff to eliminate the need for agency workers.

Workers at the National Aquatic Centre in Blanchardstown have voted to take industrial action

Workers at the National Aquatic Centre in Blanchardstown have voted to take industrial action following the refusal of Dublin Waterworld Ltd, which runs the centre on a contract from the state, to recognise the union.

SIPTU Branch Organiser John Flannery said that the company has also wrongfully dismissed at least four people - three of whom are SIPTU members.

Dublin Mid West Sinn Féin candidate Joanne Spain is backing the workers and called for government contracts to require companies to recognise unions.

"Given the many recent cases of worker exploitation in Ireland it is essential that the government set an example to the rest of the employers in the state. It is up to them to lead the way and set an example in protecting workers' rights. Therefore, first and foremost they must never again award a contract to any company that refuses to recognise the right of workers to be represented by their trade unions," she said.

SIPTU signs agreement with Hungarian unions

SIPTU has signed a co-operation agreement with the Democratic Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Hungary (LIGA) as part of its ongoing campaign to develop fraternal relations with Eastern European trade unions and to stop exploitation of workers. The union already has such arrangements with unions in Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

The overwhelming majority of incidents of exploitation of migrants occur in employments where there is no trade union.

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