Issue 4-2022 small

17 April 1997 Edition

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Workers in struggle: Government denies equality of treatment

Talks begin today at the Labour Relations Commission between the IMPACT trade union and the Health Services Employers Association. The issue is the pay claims made by 3,500 IMPACT workers who include speech therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, social workers, childcare workers and bio-chemists employed by hospitals and health boards across the country. The workers were balloted on industrial action and voted by over 90% to strike from next Monday 21 April.

The health services employers who represent the interests of the Dublin Government and some of the larger privately run hospitals have brought the IMPACT workers to the brink of industrial action by insisting the recent nurses' wage deal was a stand-alone wage increase. Any new deals will have to ignore the nurses' wage agreement.

In the case of the IMPACT workers this flies in the face of nearly 50 years of an agreed wage structure where the nurses' wages were pegged with many of their fellow professionals.

In common with the nurses many of these workers have seen their workloads increase over the years. For example, social workers face massively increased workloads because of the 1991 Childcare Act. Their working conditions have tangibly deteriorated. These factors have been ignored by the Health Sector employers.

The crux of this dispute is that the Dublin Government were only driven to settle with the nurses because of the consequences of their proposed strike action. There was no recognition that the nurses had a legitimate claim to their wage increases.

The real irony is that TDs' wages are pegged to civil servant grades and they are looking for their wage level to be upgraded. What is needed is for the Government to recognise the need for equal treatment for all public sector workers. Stumbling from dispute to dispute will benefit no one and only highlights the fickleness and ineptitude of the current coalition.

Who's corrupting who?

Double standards in business and economic matters are nothing new but sometimes you see new levels in the application of double standards when the pure-as-driven-snow western European and North American economies start dictating to what they deem their less advanced counterparts.

This week it was the turn of the East and Central European economies to get lectured about meeting the standards of the west. The venue was the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development's (EBRD) London headquarters. The bank is funded by the governments of the EU to encourage investment and market-led development in the former centrally planned economies of East and Central Europe.

The EBRD are actively encouraging what the Financial Times describes as the ``cash strapped governments'' of these European economies to privatise their banking systems. This will strengthen financial markets and tighten regulation. The aim of this plan is to make markets more efficient and eliminate corruption.

This seemed strange logic as a brief study of recent international banking and financial market scandals reveal that it is the advanced industrialised states that lead the corruption league.

For example it was Barings of Britain who lost £865 million in 1995, Sumitomo Corp of Japan who blew £1.6 billion on dubious copper trades in June 1996, Deutsche Bank of Germany who wrote off £483 million in September 1996 after dodgy securities purchases, while in February 1997 the British National Westminster Bank lost a mere £89 million on mis-priced contracts.

One wonders is this the level of effiency and reduction of corruption that East European banks are to aspire to. Or is it a case of `do as we say not as we do'?

A new international brigade

Marchers from southern Spain, France, Italy, Finland, Tuzla and Sarajevo set out on a two month march that will take them to Amsterdam on 14 June, just in time for the EU heads of state Inter Governmental Conference on the proposed new EU treaty.

The organisers of the Amsterdam rally, which will involve over 40,000 people believe it will be ``the largest ever protest against unemployment in the history of Europe''.

The marchers, who start walking this week, will meet up with groups from other states and regions along the trail to Amsterdam.

The Irish march starts in Derry on 1 June, travelling through Belfast, Dundalk, Dublin, Kilkenny, and Cork where the marchers will take a ferry to Roscoff, meeting up with an international grouping for the final leg of the trip.

Public meetings and publicity events will take place along the march routes to draw attention to what needs to be done to achieve a full employment Europe. Official EU figures show that there are more than 20 million registered as unemployed across the 15 member states.

David's deflector topples Goliath

MMDS, UHF, VHF - what does it all mean? Well for some companies, particularly Independent Newspapers, it was supposed to mean control of the market providing access for foreign televsion channels to areas not linked into cable systems. A range of companies bought licenses from the Dublin government in 1991 to use a new technology called Microwave Multipoint Distribution System. The costs of starting up each station were £500,000 and the operators wanted to charge housheolders a price to get their investment plus a dividend back. With the coming of digital transmissions next year the MMDS companies would be in a dominant market postion.

There was only one problem with this win-win scenario. That was the actual customers who didn't fancy paying the high prices that the MMDS operators were demanding. Their alternative was to use less sophisticated UHF technology to transmit signals to their customers. There are now over 100 of these community-built UHF deflector systems providing TV signals for less than one third of the cost of MMDS.

This week Communications Minister Alan Dukes allowed temporary licenses to the UHF deflector broadcasters in what looks like being the first instalment in a bitter battle between the commmunity-led operators and the MMDS franchises. Technology has often been used as a weapon to allow companies to dominate markets, it's nice that in this David and Goliath scenario David's sling can still hit home.

An Phoblacht
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