Monday’s national strike deferred

According to RTE, the ICTU have deferred Monday’s national protest day & strike. The Unions have suffered some set backs recently with IMPACT voting narrowly to reject strike action, and the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants voting decidedly against it. More on the RTE report below the fold.

The Indo, which has been running something of a campaign for public spending cuts, reports that the Unions won’t win any concessions but Brian Cowen’s intervention allowed them to save face.

Update 1: A branch of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) are calling on David Begg the ICTU chief to resign over calling off the strike. I am incredulous at this news, Irish teachers are well paid and have great working conditions (teaching time 19 hours per week) – pay scales are available here. Teachers start on a basic salary of €32,599 (£30,154) a mere €3,000 less than the average wage in Ireland, with many additions available (e.g. €3,169 extra for degree holders). In addition their defined benefit pensions are much better than those available in the private sector, and there is less chance of being made redundant. Teachers do a great job in Ireland, and are often under-appreciated but I suspect they don’t realise how good they have it in these difficult times..

Update 2: Siptu have issued a statement on the matter, and detailed what they will be aiming for in negogiations. Hat tip to Mick.

Adds:. Cool heads reigned supreme in the end and the TUI voted in favour of calling of the strike.

Teachers United the group calling for the resignation of David Begg, represents post-secondary teachers in Dublin. The average salary for secondary school teachers in Ireland is €54,340. Public sector wages are funded out of tax revenues (which don’t come close to covering current spending). Personally I think well-paid workers striking is a terrible idea because it runs the risk of reducing future investment that would help fund the Irish exchequer and keep Irish wages high. The government did raise wages in the good times, we have to work together to get through this storm.
From the RTE report –

The executive council of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has announced it is deferring a wave of strikes planned for next Monday.

It comes as union leaders decided to return to talks with the Government on an economic recovery package.

ICTU General Secretary David Begg said unions want the Government to engage with their ten-point plan for economic recovery.

It’s certainly welcome that the strike has been deferred, but worrying that the Unions continue to regard themselves as a Shadow government.

From the Indo –

UNIONS will today dramatically call off a national strike for next Monday in return for a restart of failed pay talks with Government and employers.

But the unions will not get any major concessions in return from the Government ahead of the emergency budget in a fortnight.

The eleventh-hour invitation into a fresh round of social partnership negotiations will allow unions to save face after a public backlash against their plans and some embarrassing votes against the action by key unions.

….

While the unions are now back at the negotiation table, the time left for them to influence where the Government will find the €6bn required in tax hikes, cutbacks and borrowing is limited. The Cabinet is expected to sign off on the budget by Saturday week, and ministers are already half way through their series of intense pre-budget meetings.

Nonetheless, the unions will get the chance to directly lobby the Government on contentious issues such as pay, the pension levy, income tax and social welfare payments, in an effort to protect those on low incomes.

If a deal is reached, it will supersede the pay agreement hammered out last September, which provided for a 6pc pay rise over 21 months.

In an emotive letter to the leader of the trade union movement, David Begg, Mr Cowen urged unions to engage “as a matter of urgency” with the social partners to broker a new national agreement.

The Taoiseach set a strict pre-condition that unions first lifted the threat of action against employers who refused to pay the national wage agreement.

With projected revenues of €35bn and current spending commitments of €55bn and the government planning to borrow around 9.5% this year, spending cuts and tax rises are required to bring borrowing back within the 3% limit of the Growth and Stability pact by 2013. That deadline recently agreed with the European Commission.

Meanwhile the bond market situation continues to improve for Ireland with narrowing spreads on Eurozone government bonds and Credit Default Swaps. While Ireland has low government debt, the spreads on both Irish bonds and CDSs to insure those bonds have been a concern, hinting that the market may refuse to purchase Irish bonds or that there are fears the Irish government may default. The markets seem to be judging these risks to be abating slightly.

Taken together, I hope these are signs that with everyone willing to help and share the load that the country may be beginning to find its way to a solution to the crisis.

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  • So the unions act in defence of their members’ interests, and they are seeing themselves as a shadow government. Business people speak about political and fiscal matters, and they are doing what – carrying out their civic duty? Just what we need. Another platform for right-wing propaganda.

  • Greenflag

    Mack ,

    It’ll take more than the Irish Government’s efforts to turnaround the present mess . The ICTU is off it’s head in calling for one day strikes . Madness . Like the chap putting out the fire by running around pouring more petrol on it 🙁

    Cool heads are needed for this one and a cooperative international environment . We are lucky to be in the Euro Zone at this time . I shudder to think where the economy would be had we still our own ‘sovereign ‘ currency ? Probably throwing worthless 50 euronotes into the fountain in Stephen’s Green !

  • Mack

    Garibaldy –

    It’s the demand that the government engage with their 10-point plan for economic recovery, while threatening strike action (the strike merely being deferred) which goes beyond acting in their members interest and attempting to force the hand of the democratically elected government. The ICTU are unelected & they certainly haven’t won the debate on their proposals (won broad popular support for them). That’s why I see this as crossing a line. I hope it’s just rhetoric.

  • Loo Laa

    ICTU have copped on that a general strike would have been a fiasco. People are worried for their jobs, not aggrieved at their conditions.

    “I’m afraid I’m going to lose my job, therefore I’m not going to work today.”

    150,000 will protest on a Saturday afternoon, but only the public sector scabs could afford to protest on a Monday morning.

    Right enough these people are a shadow government, David Begg is as much of an imbecile as Brian Cowen and Co. Clowns Incorporated.

  • Mack,

    Like it or lump it, the social parternshup arrangement includes the union movement, and operates on the basis that it will be consulted, and that its members interests will be taken account of. In that context, it is perfectly legitimate for them to ask the government to engage with their plan rather than totally ignore it.

    How social partnership works in practice, however, is that the union movement is expected to take whatever it is given and be grateful for it, followed by hysterical rhetoric whenever it takes any action that the O’Reilly group and right-wing politicians dislike. Note the precondition that those who violate the agreement should be protected before talks. That makes it fairly clear what is going on here.

  • Mack

    Garibaldy –

    The ICTU 10-point plan represents a significant departure from FF economic policy. They have no mandate to implement it, in fact quite the contrary. As such the government have a responsibility to ignore it.

    The public sector unions have gained a lot in recent years, they’re not the poor oppressed. Average salaries thanks to benchmarking are north of €50k.

    Greenflag –

    Yep, we’re reliant on an upswing in the global economy, it’s more about survival for now.

  • Mack,

    The average salary hides a lot of people well beneath it. As for Fianna Fáil economic policy. I’d love to see them go to the polls right now. I think we all know what the response would be. You cannot say on the one hand this is an emergency and we need to ignore the deal, and then on the other say that the unions cannot put forward their own proposals to negotiate on. This is total hypocrisy, and a demonstration of how social partnership is seen as meaning workers shutting up and liking what they get.

  • Mack

    Garibaldy –

    The average salary hides a lot of people well beneath it.

    Absolutely. Economically, it’s the average (* number of employees = total cost) that’s important. You can bring the average down by reducing wages paid at the top without effecting low earners. It’s only the overpaid workers that are causing the problem (pushing up the average).

    Teachers start on pretty good wages (much better than most graduate jobs, with better benefits & conditions), they’re not massively high earners, but it’s a reasonably good package given the holidays and the like. It’s a pity they can’t see the wood from the trees on this one.

  • Mack,

    I’ve no problem with hitting the civil servants getting massive salaries of over 150,000 Euro, never mind the politicians, or say profiteering consultants etc. At the same time, teaching is a highly stressful and at times dangerous job, and teachers are made scapegoats for a lot of things wrong with society that are far beyond their purview, so I have a great deal of sympathy with them.

  • Mack

    Garibaldy –

    I agree, for some it can be a very stressful job. Given the magnititude of the crises the country faces though, asking them to contribute a small amount to their excellent pensions is reasonable. I’m not calling for their wages to be cut, just for their unions to behave sensibly. Like I said, I suspect many don’t realise how well off they actually are.

  • Part of the reasons teachers and others are pissed off is that they earn less than comparable professions in terms of training and social standing. They are told that they make up for it with good pensions and job security. Then when there is trouble, both are threatened, and they get blamed for trying to defend them.

  • Keith

    Someone with an arts degree can hardly be considered a professional

  • Thus spake an engineer.

  • Dave

    “We are lucky to be in the Euro Zone at this time . I shudder to think where the economy would be had we still our own ‘sovereign ’ currency ?”

    That’s your trademark circular logic. We wouldn’t be in this mess if we didn’t join the Eurozone.

    Consumers still respond to macroeconomic policy, so the laws of economics haven’t changed just because we have transferred sovereignty over them to the ECB. And because the ECB is wholly unaccountable to the Irish people for how it controls their economy, the Europhiles in the Irish media and political establishment encourage the people to simply pretend that macroeconomic policy is a total irrelevance to economic performance rather than recognise that they have given control over something that is of profound importance to economic performance to those who don’t operate in the Irish national interest and who are not democratically accountable to the people for the power they hold over them.

    So, just as the ECB destroyed the Irish economy with an inappropriate expansionist monetary policy that set interests rates too low for too long, thereby promoting excessive borrowing and overheating in the Irish economy that saw the external debt rise to an astronomical €1.67 trillion (more than 900% of GDP) today from a pre-Eurozone starting point of just 11 billion (punts) during the actual Celtic Tiger days of 1998. In other words, Ireland’s external debt as percentage of GDP has risen from a figure of 16% in 1999 to 900% today.

    Good luck paying all of that back without a functioning economy and with a macroeconomic policy that is entirely arbitrary. By the way, keep your fingers crossed that the banks don’t write-down their assets while the guarantee scheme is in place, ‘coz then the shit will really hit the fan on the CDS rate and you national debt will skyrocket.

  • Mack

    Garibaldy –

    Part of the reasons teachers and others are pissed off is that they earn less than comparable professions in terms of training and social standing

    Really? Which comparable professions?

    I work two jobs, by the way. One as a senior software engineer developing patented algorithms as part of a relatively small team (circa 150 people including all functions) on a product that generates hundreds of millions for the company I work for, on a margin north of 90%.

    In the evenings I teach pensioners how to use their home computers.

    Take a wild guess, which of those two ‘professions’ pays the better hourly rate, by a substantial margin?

    Yep, thank you Sean and Sile tax payer!

    BTW, their pensions aren’t threatened. They’re still superior to the pensions the rest of us fund ourselves, they just have to contribute to them like everyone else.

    –>

    The country is in dire straits, we all need to share some pain. We’ve over 10% who’ve lost their jobs now. Striking now, and damaging Ireland’s international reputation would only prolong this crisis.

    In fairness to the teachers I note that the TUI as a whole voted to call the strike off, so cool heads reigned in the aggregate.

  • Oilifear

    “We wouldn’t be in this mess if we didn’t join the Eurozone.”

    When I think of how the ECB created the international credit crisis, it makes my blood boil. And when I think of how they dove the property boom in Ireland with inappropriate planning, lax regulation and tax incentives, it makes me fume. When I recall how they bloated our public service with fantastic pensions, ludicrous pay rises and a two-sheets-to-the-wind attitude to efficiency, I cry, “ECB, YOU ARE TO BLAME FOR ALL OUR WOES!”

    That’s right, Dave. it’s all Europe’s fault. You’re like a broken record.

  • teacher

    so teachers are paid BELOW the average wage, and yet you criticse them for wanting to take action to stop paycuts. what kind of perverse logic is that?

    pay is not the only (or most important) issue for most teachers, you just have to look at the huge cuts in the education budget that prevent them from carrying out the vocation properly.

    the strike was a way to show the government that workers do not support the way that they are handling this crisis, by protecting the interest of their own class, while making the vast majority of ordinary workers pay either directly through their pocket or by reducing essential services.

    its crazy that a trade union movement even wants to be in partnership with this government. workers have no common goals with the wealthy in this society. the intests of the government and their wealthy sponsors were threatened by the real possibility of a strike. the only people who lose in calling off the strike are the workers, those responsible for calling it off should resign, and leave the struggle for workers’ rights to those who don’t have a vested interest in maintaining this corrupt system that we have.

    why do posters here fear a strike. what do you have to lose? except your chains??

  • Mack

    Teacher –

    They aren’t paid below average wages – graduates start in or around the average wage. The starting salary is in nominal terms between 10 and 20% higher than equivalent starting salaries for Software Engineers (before accounting for superior pensions, job security and conditions). There is a payscale, and if you look at the CSO stats teachers earn on average over €50,000 per year.

    By the way, because wages are zero bounded on the low side most people earn below average wages! (And yes, that means most teachers earn less than the figures quoted by the CSO).

    My point is they are reasonably well paid. See my comment above, personally I regard myself as well renumerated for the teaching work I do.

    What do we have to lose?

    Quite a lot I would have thought. We’re a wealthy country, and if you look at those pay scales they are good wages. This countries wealth was accumulated by attracting foreign investment on the basis that we’re a business friendly country. Before we did so, we were a basket case.

    The deliquent bankers have done untold damage to our reputation, let’s not make it worse.

  • Mack

    Teacher –

    Taking a look at the cso stats average earnings for primary school teachers is only €44,000. That is very low compared to secondary teachers who earn €54,340 on average or 22% more.

    http://www.cso.ie/statistics/public_sector_earnings.htm

  • leftie

    there is no left wing element on this site. this thread is pure government shite. that’s a shame

  • Leftie,

    In fairness Mark McGregor provides a left wing voice on this site, and does so effectively. Though I agree that at this point in time a southern left wing voice, or at least more blogs about the south from a left wing perspective, would be very welcome, because we do get a constant drip of right-wing analysis when it comes to economics. There is of course another blogger here from an avowedly left-wing party that has TDs. Let’s hope Chris can step up to the plate, using his party’s extensive resources if possible.

    Mack,

    As someone who teaches you should know that developing lesson plans and other preparation, marking, and paperwork etc mean that teachers work well beyond the hours they are actually in class teaching. So I think that your pay per hour remark is way off the mark. Nevermind the responsibility that comes with it to act in their own best interests, and the best interests of those they educate, as outlined by the teacher in the comments above.

    I have to laugh at the notion that a one day strike would mean the end of the Irish economy as we know it, and stop recovery. The Republic’s reputation is in the gutter because of factors completely unrelated to the trade union movement, and a one-day protest is hardly likely to change that one way or the other. What it might do is protect services, and stop yet more good money being thrown after bad.

  • Tochais Si­orai­

    What’s needed is a government with balls to rip through the public service administration and cut out the jobs that are a waste of time and money.

    Tear up FAS & start again, the organisation is a by word for inefficiency and bureaucracy, not just at the top but right through. In the HSE, there are literally 1000s of people with virtually nothing to do after it was reorganised. There should’ve been massive savings made when the health boards were amalgamated but Ahern caved in. Don’t get me started on county enterprise boards and development boards and various boards for talking shite, sometimes I think there are more people talking about enterprise than actually being enterprising.

    The x border bodies are no better, in fact they seem to be combinging the worst aspects of both jurisdictions when they could / should be a model for best practice.

    Rant over, back to trying to make a few quid this morning.

  • Mack

    Garibaldy –

    I think strikes send out a powerful negative message across the globe, they hint at social unrest, and Ireland’s reputation is already severly damaged. We need positive PR not negative. Apart from that it would achieve little apart from aggravating the rest of the population.

    I know how much work goes into planning lessons (I don’t have to mark exams and the like, so I get off lightly, close family members don’t). That doesn’t mean it’s not a reasonably well paid job though. It doesn’t make sense to me, for a group like Teacher’s United which represents staff working in a sector where the average wage is 54k to take such a militant and self-destructive line (middle class revolutionaries?). Especially as they have a place in the negotiations already (which is more than workers in my main line of work have).

  • Mack

    Incidentally, by way of comparison (for hourly rates), we regularly work unpaid overtime in Software too, as I’m sure many other private sector workers do too. I’d love those long summer holidays though!

  • Mack

    Tochais Sioraiͭ –

    Let’s hope that’s what An Bord Snip is going to do, and the government put measures in place to support people losing their jobs in retraining.

  • Mack,

    The social partnership arrangement most likely provided an incentive for MNCs to come to the Republic. A one day strike from a union movement committed to continuing that arrangement in the midst of such exceptional circumstances is hardly going to undo all the other benefits.

    But here is part of the problem in the first place. Reliance on FDI. The MNCs were always going to see the south as a temporary home that would serve them well but once the EU expanded it was inevitable that a lot of that cash would shift eastwards, as has in fact been happening. What the island as a whole needs is more native-owned firms that keep the money in Ireland. The government threw even a tiny fraction of the money it has been pumping into the banks towards job crewation, I doubt there would be any impetus for a strike at all. But let’s go ahead and blame it all on the unions.

    I am sympathetic towards the lack of say that software engineers have. However, join a union, and you get one, and have a greater chance of improving and protecting your pay and conditions.

  • Mack

    Garibaldy –

    I agree about social partnership’s role in attracting FDI. It brought stability, free from strikes. As a consequence too, I think public sector workers did reasonably well in good times. Unionising in the MNC sector would probably be the death of it. While it would be great if our economy was driven by indigenous business, the fact is it isn’t. If we scare away the MNC’s now, we’ll send ourselves backwards decades. It’s a bit like having a golden goose that was laying 10 eggs a day, she’s gotten sick and slowed down dramatically say to 5, but the solution is to nurse her better, not take her out the back and shoot her.

    The government made huge mistakes, giving tax breaks for property investment and development – breaks that should have gone to investors in sustainable local exporting businesses. Hopefully we can learn the lesson for the future.

    I’m in favour of a government stimilus package by the way. Investing now, to create jobs, working on projects that will give a measurable return to the economy in the medium term.

    We’re currently on target to spend north of 55bn on income south of 35bn. I think the government is correct in looking to cut costs and find efficiencies, when they’ve done that I hope there would be scope for investment that would create jobs. It would be fantastic if that were what the unions were arguing for (instead of taking advantage of the crisis to attempt to turn Ireland in Sweden, which I think would fail badly for us, or merely complain about having to make relatively small contributions).

  • I’m not suggesting scaring away the MNCs. What I am suggesting is that instead of seeking to continue a dependence on them, which is producing diminishing returns – and the conditions for which have gone – we use this opportunity to reorient economic policy to encourage sustainable native enterprises. Instead of sacrificing our cash, our credit, and everything else to corrupt and incompetent bankers and their buddies. Borrow to invest; not borrow to give money to wasters.

    We can agree on that, and even that some cuts are necessary. But the burden must be spread more heavily further up the social scale.

  • Mack

    Yeah, I agree with that. I’d maybe reword your last sentence slightly and say the burden of responsibility for genuine wealth creation lies more heavily with the wealthy and government policy should reflect that in both taxes and tax breaks.