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13 February 1997 Edition

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workers in struggle: Noonan plays strike roulette

Nurses throughout the 26 counties worked as usual this week after their eleventh hour strike deferral, brought about by significant gains in a stop-gap Labour Court judgement. The 26,000 nurses will now ballot on the new proposals.

Serious questions remain though about the conduct of the Dublin Government throughout the negotiation process. It is nearly 13 years since the nurses made their first claim to early retirement. Yet it was not until late on Saturday night that Michael Noonan the current Minister for Health conceded on the issue and accepted the Labour Court recommendation that nurses can retire at 55 if they have 35 years service even though only 200 such retirement packages will be available for nurses annually. Already this year such a package was conceded for the state's teachers, while the gardai, fire officers and prison screws can retire at 50.

Other important features of the Labour Court judgement were the rejection of the government's proposals to introduce a new yellowpack grade of nurse. There was an increase in 300 of the number of recommended new full time posts to 2,000 and a top wage for staff nurses of £21,000 instead of the previous offer of £20,350, with the increments spread over 13 years instead of 15.

The nurses were also promised a commission which will examine all aspects of their wages and working conditions. The question is, will it be able to address the remaining serious issues, such as: the use of zero hour contracts which were banned in Dunnes Stores; the £17.3 million in unpaid overtime worked by nurses last year (prison screws paid overtime last year amounted to £18 million); the 16% increase in nurses workload in recent years.

The core issue though is whether the Dublin Government is finally prepared to engage in real dialogue with nurses or indulge in more brinkmanship.

The final lesson of this dispute is that the nurses held out for a just settlement. Their endurance is in stark contrast to the ICTU negotiators who won so little in their Partnership 2000 agreement. The trade union movement has a lot to learn both from their protagonists and their more able members. The question is are they paying attention?

Getting better all the time

Facts and figures about labour force data are deluging the office this week.

Apart from the inter governmental hype on the falling unemployment rate throughout Ireland (even though long-term unemployment has been unaffected by the four month fall in the 26 Counties) there has been newly published surveys on average disposable income, a new household employment trends survey and rash of reports on our favourite topic here - executive incomes.

First off, congratulations to the three directors of agribusiness company IAWS. Their combined remuneration package grew by 15%. They shared performance bonuses of £196,000 a mere £65,000 each giving them combined total salaries of £729,000 or £243,000 each. Ryanair's seven directors shared £6.5 million in 1995 an average of over £928,000 each.

However as you steady yourself, there are other other options for those looking to better their lot. According to the Irish Managment Institute, most senior company managers enjoyed pay rises of 6% in 1996, well ahead of both infaltion and the wages rise given to unionised workers.

For those aspiring to electoral office take heart, the EU is worried about the salaries of Irish MEPs, who are currently tenth in the EU salary leauge taking home only £30,500 yearly, not counting their lucrative expenses. The parliament is looking at equalising MEPs' salaries at near the top rate paid to MEPs which is easily double the salary paid to Irish MEPs. The only problem is that 26-County MEPs' salaries are linked to those paid to TDs who just might look for parity with their EU brethren. You have been warned.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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