Ireland: Croke Park 2 - Bosses turn the screw. Reject pay and pension cuts

In Ireland a deal has been reached about another round of redundancies and pension and wage cuts called Croke Park II. Over the next few weeks the debate within the unions and in the press will be fierce. All of the forces of the ruling class and the government will be unleashed to try and sell this deal through the press and the media and through management pressure. We publish here two articles from the Fightback website on the question.

Croke Park walk out – fight for a 24 Hour Public Sector General Strike

24 February: RTÉ reports tonight that IMO, INMO, the CPSU and UNITE have walked out of the Croke Park talks, describing government proposals as unrealistic. General Secretary of INMO Liam Doran has threatened that the union will escalate its response if the government tries to legislate to impose pay cuts.

As RTÉ reports:

“INMO General Secretary Liam Doran said that if the Govenrment moved to legislate for pay cuts, they would mobilise by all means at their disposal to resist the measures.

“He also said that they would be looking very long and hard at TDs going into Leinster HOuse to cut the pay of people earning half of their wages”.

Meanwhile the GRA has refused to take part in the talks, Gardai have begun to take some limited action and have picketed the talks.

Meanwhile IMPACT have continued with negotiations as have SIPTU with Jack O’Connor being critical of the rally organised by the 24/7 Front Line alliance.

RTÉ reports O’Connor as saying:

“In a criticism of last Monday's rally of members of the 24/7 Frontline Alliance, he said it would take a great deal more than the expenditure of hot air and windy rhetoric in basketball arenas to achieve a successful outcome in this battle”.

We would agree that even the most militant rally won’t beat the austerity. But on the other hand we suspect that “talks about talks about talks” won’t be any more successful. The experience of the last series of talks is that the only way to budge the public sector employers and the government is coordinated militant industrial action.

Instead of criticizing those unions that have walked out of the talks SIPTU and IMPACT should be meeting with the 24/7 Front line alliance and discussing plans to campaign in every branch in every town and city for a 24 hour Public Sector General strike.

Croke Park 2: Bosses turn the screw. Reject pay and pension cuts

26 February: RTÉ reported last night that a draft deal has been put together in the Croke Park 2 negotiations.  After some initial confusion the ICTU negotiators say that the proposed deal does not allow for compulsory redundancies. However, we understand that compulsory redundancies were mentioned in supporting papers that were presented by the employers.

But the proposed deal does allow cuts in wages and pensions and will certainly impact on shift workers and others working unsocial hours. Reports indicate that Sunday premium rates are to be cut to 1.75 times basic pay. Overtime payments for workers on less than €35,000 will be cut to 1.5 the basic rate and for those over €35,000: 1.25% No surprise then that the Nurses, Midwives, Doctors and other frontline workers such as firefighters and the Gardai walked out of the talks. No surprise also that lower paid workers who rely on overtime payments to make ends meet are unhappy. In addition workers will be expected to work longer hours, with no recompense. Again this adds up to a further pay cut in terms of the hourly rate.

The proposals are likely to meet with significant opposition from many union members, although it seems clear that the ICTU leadership are desperate to strike a quick deal.  Jack O’Connor is reported as saying that the deal is the best that can be gained through negotiation. Together with other SIPTU leaders he has said he’ll take a pay cut. It is clear that the main thrust of the deal is to introduce pay cuts, targeting higher earners first, but pay cuts none the less.

Workers earning more than €65,000 will face progressively higher pay cuts, while pensions over €32,500, including for existing pensioners will also face cuts. These pensioners have already suffered the pension levy. Meanwhile the Taoiseach boasts about Ireland’s low taxes on capitalist profits.

It is most likely that there will be significant opposition to the proposals. It is likely that the ICTU leaders will try and force through the agreement in a similar vein to the way the original deal. In 2010 the agreement was sold on the basis that it protected wages at the cost of restructuring and redeployment. This proposed deal however is different. It attacks wages once again and it is clear that the employers and the government are angling for compulsory redundancy in the long run. The proposed deal is a major turn which will lay the basis for mass redundancies voluntary or compulsory in the long run.

Rather than making the rich pay, more and more and pressure is being heaped on to public sector workers. As one lecturer explained in a response to the article in the Irish Times this morning

“Once again the government and the unions have betrayed us - as it happens as a public servant I earn exactly 65,0000. Currently with all the deductions from my salary I take home €29,000! From that figure - just to be able to get to pay my mortgage and get work and back each day it costs me 14,900 a year - that leaves my family with 14,100 to live on. 

“The new pay cut of 5.5% will reduce the 29,000 by 3,575 this means I will take home 25,425. So I will now have the grand total of 10,525 for my family to live on! In the next 2 years I will have 2 college age children - the average registration fees will be about 3,500 each per year! This means that as a college lecturer I will not be able to afford to send my own children to college! I haven't been able to tell them that there's little point in them studying hard in the leaving cert as no matter how well they do it will take a miracle for them to be able to go to college.” 

First managers will cut the budgets and workers will be put on redeployment. Voluntary redundancy deals will be offered, but if not enough people volunteer to walk the plank then how long will it be before the axe will fall? This isn’t protection; it’s a recipe for permanent austerity in the public sector.

Jack O’Connor is correct in one sense, if the Trade Union leaders don’t fight this proposal, then this is all that’s on the table. However, were the unions to organise a campaign to turn out a NO vote, backed up by industrial action in the Public Sector then, they would win a mandate to fight for a better deal and could easily win concessions.

The fact that the 24/7 Frontline Alliance is taking a different tack to the ICTU leaders is significant. Many of their members would be dramatically affected by the pay cuts and attacks on premium pay. But these attacks are only the thin end of the wedge. The government will seek to argue that the agreement affects only the highest paid. But look at the Household Tax. This was sold as a mere €100. This is nonsense and no one really believed the government. This is the same, but maybe even worse for the mass of public sector workers.

Tonight the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants voted to recommend its members reject the deal. The Irish Times reports:

“Association general secretary Dave Thomas said the decision was not taken lightly. “However, given the scale of the pay cuts proposed we have no other choice but to strongly recommend a no vote on the part of our members. The current proposals follow on a range of cuts already absorbed by AHCPS members in recent years.

“He said his union’s members have already had pay reductions of between 15 per cent and 17 per cent before tax and universal social charge increases are taken into account, in addition to extra working hours.  “There are other options available to the Government, not least in the context of taxation. However these options have been steadfastly resisted,” he said. “Against a background of ongoing cuts and general erosion in take home pay and conditions the current proposed cuts are simply a step too far.”

The Irish Federation of University Teachers (Ifut) meets tomorrow to discuss the proposals and the CPSU is to launch its Nothing More to Give campaign.

Brendan Howlin is reported as saying that this is the “last ask” from public sector workers. However, as long as the Labour leaders tie themselves to capitalist austerity policies the ruling class will demand more and more. The experience of Greece illustrates that there is no sea floor as far as the austerity is concerned. This is a battle of living forces, not merely an arithmetic question. If the trade union leaders accept these measures without a fight, then it will be seen as a sign of weakness.

Over the next few weeks the debate within the unions and in the press will be fierce. All of the forces of the ruling class and the government will be unleashed to try and sell this deal through the press and the media and through management pressure. With a clear sighted leadership at the head of the trade union movement this deal would be kicked into the long grass.

  • Fight for a No vote in every union ballot
  • Make the Bosses pay for their Crisis