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December 2009

Unions deal with Government fails

Alternative To Reduce Government Expenditure Reaches Stalemate

As the entire Irish populace begins countdown to the official publication of Governments proposed €1.3 billion across the public service, the Brian Cowen led Government over the weekend rejected a trade union proposal for savings to be made through staff taking unpaid 12 days compulsory leave. The much awaited last minute dialogue between Government and Ictu to explore possible cost saving avenues in public spending had hit a brick wall as the Government rejected Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ (ICTU) suggestions of compulsory unpaid holiday money for all public sector workers.

The Government’s decision to reject the ICTU proposal came after strong opposition from Cabinet members to accept the holiday alternative. The Taoiseach Brian Cowen had indicated over the weekend that the Irish public servants now face a pay cut of between 5 and 6 per cent in Wednesday 9th of December 2009 budget after the negotiations failed. The Taoiseach is said to have stormed out of the meeting and concluded that the government will forge ahead on their own to cut the €1.3 billion expenditure in the next budget through salary and other cuts.

According to proposal from ICTU, it estimates that the unpaid leave deal would have ploughed in €4,600 which is about 4.6 percent of an annual income of a service staff earning €50,000 next year. For workers earning more than this amount the cut would have been equivalent to up to 7 per cent of that workers income.

While the ICTU proposal is also seen as a good suggestion, some others like Green Party senator Dan Boyle said the proposal on unpaid leave was never going to be a permanent solution and it was not a longterm solution to tackling the costs involved in the public service. He stressed that these "Budgetary cuts in the public service were only short- and medium-term. The decisions we make have to be deep and long-term," he told RTÉ radio. He said a decision on across-the-board cuts had not been made yet and that this should come early next week. Questioned on whether the Greens took into account the swing in public opinion against the proposal, Mr Boyle said his party would have expressed its concerns over the plan during Cabinet meetings.

While the Government took a tough stance on its decision the unions are likely to push on for another strike at a later date after it suspended its Thursday 3rd of December strike that could have brought the country to a halt as hospitals schools, social welfare offices and local authority offices.

Although the Government in the build up to its walk out of the pay talk had maintained that the union committee leaders were adamant on reaching an agreement, the union committee members maintained that the Government document had not contained sufficient guarantees on pay, pensions and compulsory redundancies to merit meaningful cost savings.

As the entire populace waits patiently to see what the pay cuts entail, the Government has made it known that there will be a cut to social welfare payments as well as other cuts. As the debate on the cuts lasted, it had generated mixed feelings and reactions from the populace and social commentators. Some believe the country might be heading for a head long collision that could lead the country to a second stage of industrial actions that could make or mar the economy with series of regional stoppages and a further nationwide 24-hour strike. Despite keeping mute on its next step and strategy, Ictu officials will meet on Monday to discuss the next line of action on the failed talks. The African Voice over the weekend spoke to some members of the immigrant community who are public sector workers.

Said Al Hassan in his own submission said "Even if the Government accede to the ICTU proposal it will cause chaos for some establishments especially to the frontline services. This is because so many workers will prefer to take their own holidays at days of public holidays thereby leaving the Government with no option than to hire agency workers during those periods, thereby hiking the expenses incurred in providing such services, compared to the one by normal workers. So if it is pay cut, let them do it once and for all." According to Mary Peters "The Government is the architect of its own problems by not concluding on its cutting figures at once. When they propose cuts last minute, it will definitely generate reactions."

Moses Adekunle in his own reasoning believes the Irish economy will bounce back. According to him he stated that "the index from other countries shows that if the Government succeeds in cutting the public pay, it will bring Ireland close to other EU countries when it comes to work pay, thereby encouraging companies and foreign investors to see Ireland as a business hub. Anthony in his own reaction affirmed with grievances that."

Mr McLoone accused the Government of failings in it's responsibilities, stating it has "so far failed to engage with a willingness to negotiate a fair alternative to plans for a second huge pay cut in less than a year". He said he wanted to stress the determination felt by public servants who had already taken a huge pay cut this year. "They will resist another pay cut, not least because they would see this as a signal that the Government would come back again and again to reduce their family incomes, instead of finding a fair alternative that also protects public services and the State finances," he said.

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