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4 March 1999 Edition

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Workers in struggle

Dangerous workers undermine economy

There is the ESRI claims an ``acute danger'' that wage increases for Irish workers could undermine the economy
Warning warning, there are dangerous workers out there. You are endangering the economy. Stop work now. If it wasn't such a fundamentally important issue it would be funny. This week workers have been under attack both nationally and internationally.

In the 26 Counties it was the turn of the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) to put the boot into Irish workers. Their quarterly economic commentary predicts that economic growth will slow down in 1999 and because of this there is a serious risk that increasing wages could damage the economy's competitiveness.

Any increases offered to employees in 1999 must according to the ESRI be based ``on a sober assessment of trends in market demands and prices''. There is the ESRI claims an ``acute danger'' that wage increases for Irish workers could undermine the economy.

Internationally workers are coming under pressure from the European Central Bank (ECB). Trade unions in West Germany representing more than 3 million public sector workers have won a pay increase of 3.1%. It came two weeks after engineering workers got wage increases of 4% a year.

ECB president Wim Duisenberg has maintained that he will not let EU interest rates fall if he believes there have been excessive wage rises among EU member states.

Isn't it interesting though that no matter what the state of the economy workers are continually under suspicion for being a threat to the continual well being of the economy.

In the 1980s workers were not productive or competitive enough and now after 12 years of wage increases barely in line with inflation workers are threatening to wreck everything by securing higher wage increases. The ESRI report seems to imply that workers are wrong in claiming they have not been benfitting from the Celtic Tiger. Obviously none of the ESRI commentary authors have tried to buy a house recently.

Maybe though we are being unfair to the ESRI and they were actually writing about the directors and managers who for years have been creaming off huge and ever increasing salaries. Somehow how though that is highly unlikely. It is back to the same old story of blaming the workers, the very ones whose efforts built the economic success of the 1990s in the first place.

Partners against ``the enemy at the gate''?

Yes its that time of year again. The rarely seen trade union leadership are making their now ritual noises on how they definitely wont be dragged into another round of wage negotiations without major concessions from the employers organisations and the Dublin Government.

IMPACT's General Secretary Peter McLoone and SIPTU Vice President Des Geraghty spoke last weekend at separate conferences on the next round of possible social partnership negotiations.

McLoone warned that any attempt to make performance related pay a precondition to a new partnership agreement would jeopardise the negotiations.

Des Geraghty speaking at a SIPTU seminar on centralised pay bargaining said that the Partnership 2000 agreement had ``not resolved the problems of low pay, social exclusion and unfair income distribution in Irish society. Nor has it yet resolved the critical issue of union representation rights or tackled fully the unfair taxation burden on PAYE workers''.

Geraghty also pointed up the failures of Irish employers. It was clear he said ``that the majority of Irish employers have yet to embrace fully the concept of equal partnership in the workplace or accept that their success should be shared more equally with their employees''.

Despite Geraghty's tough stance there is nothing to suggest that SIPTU are even remotely considering not signing up to a fifth partnership agreement.

What they are doing is initiating the tough negotiating position that will inevitably crumble in the forthcoming negotiations.

ATGWU General Secretary Michael O'Reilly who has consistently opposed partnership negotiations have a much clearer picture to the seminar audience.

O'Reilly tackled the concept of partnership articulated by Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) director Turlough O'Sullivan. ``They draw up a plan and we have a minor role'' said O'Reilly. There should be instead he said ``Joint Determination'' where the workers and employers work together on all aspects of their business. O'Sullivan also told the seminar that workers and employers should remember that their common priority was the ``enemy outside the gate''.

Michael O'Reilly took him up on this point saying that this was ``deeply offensive'' and that the national and international solidarity of workers was an important part of the trade union movement's ideology.

Turlough O'Sullivan's contribution to the seminar showed just what the trade union movement is up against if they really want to negotiate a proper partnership agreement. O'Sullivan believes that ``traditional trade union structures are not appropriate'' for the high tech US industries based in Ireland. He also said that ``The introduction of mandatory trade union recognition would scupper the delicate balance which we have worked hard to build''.

One of the more interesting elements of the meeting was a newsletter left on the chairs in the hotel conference room.

Titled SIPTU Fightback it proclaims to be a ``newsletter for SIPTU activists seeking a democratic and fighting union''. The Spring 1999 edition is filled with a critique of the previous social partnerships and offers the very simple message that is often forgotten ``The bosses are not our partners''.

Doubling the Doctors

The number of hospital consultants working in 26-County hospitals could increase by nearly 800 if the Irish Hospital Consultants Association's (IHCA) recommendations are accepted by the Dublin Government.

The IHCA has proposed that the number of consultants rise from the current level of 1,388 to 2,163 over the next eight years.

It is an interesting proposal and should probably be supported if it will help reduce hospital waiting lists. However there is a need to increase hospital bed numbers and other staffing levels if the increase in consultants will be effective.

There is also a need to make it clear just who these consultants would work for. The job of a hospital consultant is highly paid one. Consultants wages begin at £69,264 for those working in the Eastern Health Board rising to £76,756 for some consultants in the Midlands and Western Health boards.

Many consultants earn as much again from their lucrative private practices. Any new hospital consultant posts must be wholly in the public sector to ensure that the consultants are working only on public sector patients. There has to be an end to subsidising the private sector in the state health service.

School inequality

Department of Education figures show a serious level of discrimination in job appointments at 26-County primary schools. Between 1991 and 1996 2,572 women entered teaching training colleges, compared to 339 men. This trend has been a consistent feature of employment trends in primary schools for many years.

However in 1996 only 88 women were offered positions as school principals compared to 82 jobs as principals offered to men. This means that male primary school teachers are over seven times more likely to get a principal's post than women teachers in the same job.

An Phoblacht
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Dublin 1

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