3 July 2008 Edition
Pay talks face stalemate
Unions outline partnership ‘deal breakers’
BY ROBBIE SMYTH
“POOR-MOUTHING employers”, “pre-emptive strikes” and pay pauses. The latest round of partnership talks are in crisis as the public air war between employers, trade unions and the Irish Government continues unabated.
Social partnership negotiations resumed this week with serious divisions emerging between three of the major parties to the negotiations.
Trade unions across the public and private sectors have identified a series of what John Douglas of the Mandate trade union described as “deal breakers” in the negotiations. They are: any sort of pay pauses or cutbacks in health or education spending and there must be new legislation guaranteeing trade union recognition and collective bargaining.
Last week, employers’ organisation IBEC set the ball rolling when policy director Danny McCoy, writing in The Irish Times called for a public sector pay pause. It needed, he wrote, to be given “serious consideration by the Government in the national interest”, adding: “Public Sector pay and pensions is the elephant in the room that must now be tackled.”
A clearly angry ICTU General Secretary David Begg told journalists that “only a naïve fool” would propose a pay pause and that IBEC had a “brass neck”. Begg also said that IBEC couldn’t sell a message like that as “whole groups of people in Irish society have had their snouts so deep in the trough for so long and made so much out of it”.
What of the Government and Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who has never needed a union to represent him, has had above-inflation pay increases for his working career and is one of the ever decreasing numbers of workers who will enjoy a defined payment pension scheme, where an ordinary worker would have to contribute over €4 million to get the pension pay-out due to Cowen if he leaves political office?
Both the Brians – Cowen and Lenihan – have put the Government position in recent days and both with a new veneer of ‘coalition speak’.
For Cowen, speaking at the IBEC’s President’s Dinner, the slow-down in house building was a “normalisation”, while Finance Minister Lenihan – speaking last Sunday at the unveiling of a statue to John F Kennedy in Wexford – talked of Government “savings” in expenditure, not cutbacks.
Most cryptic though of the Government comments on the partnership talks was Cowen’s assertion that “We’re keeping many eyes on the ball at the same time.” Cowen has stressed the need for “pay restraint” that “must apply across the board” and a new pay deal would convey confidence. He also said: “We must prioritise those who are most vulnerable and dependent on public spending.”
For the unions, this means no cutbacks in health and education spending and – for SIPTU in particular – the introduction of new legislation for trade union recognition and collective bargaining rights.
Larry Broderick, of banking workers’ union IBOA, summed up the union position:
“We are hearing nothing but pre-emptive strikes by employers and the Government. There will be no agreement if there are pay cuts.”