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18 September 1997 Edition

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Workers in struggle

£5,000 payout to redundant workers

``Belated climbdown'' or ``mutually acceptable conclusion''? Earlier this month the Rural Development Council (RDC) in the Six Counties agreed settlement terms with five former employees who were claiming unfair dismissal against the organisation. The RDC have agreed to pay £5,000 to the Manufacturing Science and Finance (MSF) union on behalf of the five employees it has been representing.

The MSF workers claim that in autumn 1995, ten members of staff were made redundant and ``deliberately excluded from any kind of recognised consultation process and, as a result, the RDC steamrollered through its redundancy plans''.

A statement from the RDC has a different view. They say that ``change can be painful for some of the people concerned, and we wish our former colleagues well in the future, but the world moves on''.

The MSF statement maintains that the RDC apologises to the redundant staff, acknowledges they were not properly consulted and concedes that rural communities had lost a valuable development service. MSF also said that ``No honeyed words two years later or modest financial payment are adequate compensation for the loss of a job and the anguish of trying to seek alternative employment.''

The agreement to pay £5,000 to the redundant workers was reached during negotiations at an Industrial Tribunal held at the beginning of September. The tribunal has allowed six weeks for the two parties to formally end their dispute. It remains to be seen how the two parties will formally resolve their dispute.

One of the redundant workers, Cormac McAleer, concluded the MSF statement by saying ``Public sector organisations such as the RDC - established by Government and funded through public money - need to be held to public account for their actions. This sorry tale of of the RDC's treatment of committed staff suggests that greater public scrutiny is necessary in the operations of public bodies. Such shabby dealings should never be alllowed to happen again.''

EU plans currency gamble

Dublin Government caught out by Euro funding block

Last weekend 15 finance ministers and central bank heads of European Union member states were finalising proposals on the future of the EU. The ministers agreed to gamble heavily in a game of roulette in which not only billions of punts are at stake but also tens of thousands of jobs.

The EU ministers have set 1 May 1998 as the date when EU member states who want to enter the single currency regime announce the exchange rates at which they will become part of the euro.

There will then be a seven month gap between the announcement of the rates at which participants will align their currencies and the actual start of the euro as the single currency. It will then be open season for the speculators who will target the weaker currencies. They thrive on currency instability.

The seven month gap between 1 May 1998 and the start of the single currency on 1 January 1997 is in fact a test run for the member states. If they cannot maintain their alignment rates for entry into the euro, it is highly unlikely that they will be allowed to participate. German Bundesbank president Hans Tietermeyer described it as de facto monetary union.

The uncertainty and speculation during this period could create a range of economic problems such as job losses in exporting and importing companies if the exchange rates change substantially. Loan and mortgage rates could also increase as the Central Bank attempts to hold off speculation on the punt.

All of this seems an acceptable risk to the Dublin Government who were represented by Finance minister Charlie McCreevy. His opinion on these crucial events was disappointing. He told reporters, ``Whatever view we have we are not going to discuss it in public''. So as usual the Irish people will be kept in the dark. The ministers as a group refused to divulge how the euro alignment rates will be calculated.

Why this secrecy.? The answer is that the EU finance ministers don't know really know what is going to happen after 1 May. Not withstanding this lack of information they are still prepared to play euro roulette with our futures.

National museum demonstration

Today's opening of the new National Museum buildings at Dublin's Collins Barracks will be hit by industrial action. Technical and professional staff are stepping up industrial action which has so far been confined to a refusal to co-operate with new senior managers.

The dispute has been caused by museum management's failure to agree a staffing structure in the museum. The staff have been in dispute since April. They claim that there have been no substantial promotions for almost 20 years. Many of the curators, conservators, technicians, graphic artists, photographers and education staff are ``acting up'' to grades higher than their official job title.

The workers maintain that their proposals would cost only an additional £20,000 to a total annual wage bill of £1.7 million.


Smelly story

The relentless drive of privatised companies in the telecommunications, water, power, transport and energy sectors to cut costs and increase profits throws up at times some mad and often dangerous decisions.

In recent months we have reported on the lack of train drivers and the proposal to hire passengers as train guards and ticket collectors in England. Now Transco, the monopoly gas pipeline company, have come out with this month's madcap idea.

They want to reduce the smelliness of its gas which they claim causes unnecessary emergency calls. Most gases have odours deliberately included so that dangerous leaks can be detected.

Unison, the union which represents the thousands of gas workers, claims that the change in gas smell is a dangerous attempt to cut staff numbers. The company has already said it will cut 2,500 jobs by the end of next year.

Transco's logic seems to be that less smelly gas will mean less call-outs and less need for staff even though there might be the same number of dangerous gas leaks. They claim that their original proposal was just badly worded but they are still going to lower the gas smell to ``the minimum level''.

Next week we will probably hear about overly bright street lights distracting motorists or the 999 number will be changed because too many people know it and are over-burdening emergency services.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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