Ireland's largest trade union threatens industrial action

SIPTU will ballot its 60,000 public service members for industrial action unless the government announces new national pay talks within a week

Ireland's largest trade union threatens industrial action

SIPTU General Secretary, Jack O'Connor atends the Irish Congress of Trade Unions meeting for talks on the Croke Park II pay deal. 17/Apr/2013 Image: Julien Behal PA Archive/PA Images

Ireland’s largest trade union is to ballot its 60,000 public service members for industrial action unless the government announces new national pay talks within a week.

The Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) will authorise ballots for industrial action unless the government announces "an early date” - no later than the 1st February, 2017 - to begin negotiations for a new pay deal.

SIPTU general secretary, Jack O’Connor said the union utterly rejects the government position “that there is no money and that it is a choice between pay increases and services for the public.”

He said the government had gifted businesses in the hotel and hospitality sector with "special VAT concessions costing more than €600m per annum at the tax-payers expense” and claimed that choice was taken “despite the fact that the industry has fully recovered.”

“In addition to squandering this huge amount of tax-payers and public money it also decided to splurge a further €46 million on gifting for the wealthy through cutting capital taxes,” he said.

SIPTU Divisional Organiser, John King said an agreement to speed up pay restoration in the public sector can be reached, if the government shows the "imagination and the will:"

Sinn Fein spokesperson for workers’ rights, David Cullinane said the SIPTU decision has “all but given a final blow to the timescale of the Lansdowne Road Agreement.”

He said the government cannot “pretend any longer that the present agreement is going to hold until September 2018” and accused the Minister for Public Expenditure, Paschal Donohoe of burying “his head in the sand” on the issue.

"Soon he will be the only person left in the State who believes that Lansdowne Road is 'the only game in town,' he said. “It is time to get real. It is time to get talking."

The Minister for Health, Simon Harris said there is "no new money" and called on public sector workers to allow for talks between the government and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU):

Mr O'Connor said “even now, at the eleventh hour,” it is not too late to amend the Finance Bill and free up the cash to facilitate new negotiations on public pay.

Referencing the recent disputes between the government and unions representing teachers and gardaí; Mr O’Connor said SIPTU fully respects the “right of every trade union to take such action as it deems necessary in the interests of its members.”

“However, the problem is that once a group embarks on a solo run, everyone else will have to follow,” he said.

“This is because it could lead to a situation [where] any resources that are available will be absorbed in settling these individual disputes and there will be nothing left for anyone else.” 

The union are calling for talks on a new national public service pay deal to begin before February next year.  

Should the government fail to announce the new date "within seven days" the union’s National Executive Council will authorise “any negotiating group of members, who are covered by the Lansdowne Road Agreement” to ballot for industrial action “and/or strike action in pursuit of their demands.”

Mr O’Connor said unions “have far more leverage” if they negotiate as a group and said an all-encompassing public service deal would be “better for the people of Ireland” as a result of the stability and coherence it could provide.

He said economic conditions have “improved considerably more rapidly” that had been predicted before the Lansdowne Road Agreement was signed.

The main issues the union hopes to see addressed include, pay restoration and “deplorably low” rates for new entrants into the service.