Workplace reports:

Struggles in the unions, etc reported in Socialist Voice January '03

Here are a series of reports of struggles in workplaces across Ireland, north and South. It gives a taste of the struggles that workers and Socialist Party members are involved in. Where practical, give your support to workers in struggle.

These struggles include An Post, the NIPSA elections, FBU dispute, the ‘Social Partnership’ scheme, etc. See the other article on 2 senior ship stewards from Belfast airport who joined the Socialist Party after their recent strike.

Don’t forget to visit our industrial/trade union section of the site.

An Post Cutbacks

By Dominic Haugh

ONCE AGAIN, An Post is attempting to implement more cutbacks.

It is proposed to introduce roadside letterboxes. An Post management are attempting to make major cuts in expenditure to prepare the company for privatisation. Postal delivery routes will increase by anything up to 25% and in some cases possibly more, leading to a consequential reduction in staff numbers. According to the Irish Times, "the union's national officer, Mr. Stephen Fitzpatrick, said many of the union members feared that hundreds of jobs would be lost". With the automation of sorting procedures, postal delivery staff will find their time of work changing with a consequential loss of allowances. Overtime levels will also be reduced. Most importantly, an unspecified number of jobs will be lost.

Social Partnership on the Verge of Collapse?

By Stephen Boyd

PRIVATE SECTOR unions have threatened a series of rolling strikes if IBEC members implement a pay freeze. The collapse of the social partnership talks in December has raised the prospect of a return to free collective bargaining.

IBEC are demanding a six month pay pause (pay freeze), followed by single figure (below inflation) pay increases and have refused to accept the unions’ demands on trade union recognition. The government have also refused to consider ICTU’s claim for an increase in statutory redundancy payments from one week per year of service to three weeks.

IBEC has called on its members to “hold the line” on a six month pay freeze. In response the private sector committee of ICTU discussed plans for strike action with a series of one day strikes followed up by two day strikes throughout the private sector. There has always been an element of brinkmanship in previous social partnership negotiations. What is taking place is more than brinkmanship.

IBEC are conscious of the decline in the Irish economy and that it may go into recession over the next period. It doesn’t want to be tied to a three year deal. IBEC believes that in an economic downturn they will be able to use the threat of redundancy as a lever to keep wages down. IBEC are also strongly resisting union recognition because a huge percentage of the jobs created in multinational companies during the Celtic Tiger are non union. Its members don’t want to be legally bound to give their employees union rights.

Before the talks collapsed the bones of a deal had been agreed with the public sector unions for the benchmarking pay awards to be implemented in phased payments of 25% back dated to December 2001, 50% in December 2003 and final 25% in December 2004 in return for major restructuring.

They had also “agreed” to an 18 month pay deal of 6%. The 6% offered in the context of inflation would be a pay cut.

The government, IBEC and ICTU still want social partnership, therefore a national deal may still be reached. However if private sector unions and employers are not able to strike a deal, a pay deal may be reached which only covers the public sector. If social partnership collapses then a return of free collective bargaining opens up many opportunities not only for workers to fight the issue of a pay freeze but also to defend their working conditions in the public and private sectors.

Free collective bargaining if reintroduced would switch the emphasis back onto shop stewards and local reps to represent their members in real negotiations and can revitalise the activist layer within the unions. It also raises the possibility of the “partnership model” being replaced by unions that actually take offensive industrial action to defend their member’s jobs, wages and conditions.

Dublin Airport - Battles Continue

By Cllr. Calre Daly, SIPTU shop steward

AS THE strike at Cityjet Handling over low pay and union recognition enters its fifth month, other airport companies are lining up to launch massive attacks on working conditions. Seizing on the changed economic climate and the continued operation of Cityjet Handling driving down standards, they are determined to put the boot in.

Aer Lingus management, have announced a re-opening of the voluntary redundancy packages in an attempt to cynically portray the idea that the company is still in a financial crisis ahead of talks on the 9.5% forfeited by workers under the company's Survival Plan. That concession was given until February of this year to allow the company get out of its difficulties, along with reductions in overtime, annual leave and other conditions.

With a €40 million profit last year, and a prediction of €70 million this year, the company is already saying that conceding on pay would put the company back in difficulty. What a load of nonsense. They conned workers into accepting this, now we want it back. In the background, the political establishment is preparing the ground for a sell-off of the company at the earliest possible opportunity. Side by side with this, the break-up of Aer Rianta is gathering pace.

Other private operators such as Servisair and Aviance are also looking for massive restructuring from the workforce. The question is what will the response be? These companies have watched the Cityjet Handling dispute and seen the failure of the union to bring this to a conclusion.

The company have spent tens of thousands on legal action against the Dublin Airport Workers Network and SIPTU to prevent picketing, but they haven't once attempted to talk to the workers.

On Christmas week they overstepped the mark by going into court for the fourth time against striking workers and for the first time lost their case. This
cost them an enormous amount in legal costs and was a huge blow to their morale. The challenge for SIPTU is to seize on this and step up the action. While the blacking of Cityjet Handling is taking place in areas, it has not prevented the operation from functioning.

The picketing should be stepped up, targeted at Cityjet Handling's biggest customers, namely UPS and SPANAIR. This should be combined with a campaign of information conducted throughout the airport with an emphasis on Aer Rianta for allowing this company engage in practices that breach health & safety legislation. Either airport workers re-develop the traditions of solidarity and collective action or face the future competing against each other as jobs and conditions become eroded.

SIPTU's leadership are still associated with the RYANAIR debacle in 1998, when the airport was shut down, but they failed to unionise that company and nobody involved in the dispute is employed there today. If they fail in this dispute then it will pose a serious threat to jobs, wages and conditions of all union members at Dublin Airport.

North: NIPSA General Council Elections

Vote 'Time for Change'
By Carmel Gates
AT A time when the collapse of the NI Assembly and the reintroduction of Direct Rule have meant that the nakedly anti-public sector agenda of Northern Ireland's local politicians continues to be advanced by New Labour ministers, a return to the old conservative regime in NIPSA would be a disaster for union members.

Ian Pearson, the minister responsible for finance, announced in November his agenda for attacking the public sector. He made it clear that he will rely heavily on privatisation through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and Public Private Partnerships (PPP's) and also that he intends to introduce water charges in Northern Ireland. All the services that we rely upon, such as education and health, face destruction.

NIPSA members also face an attack on their pension rights. In a vicious move, the New Labour government intend increasing the pension age for civil servants and cutting pension entitlements. These attacks, coupled with the failure to resolve the problem of low pay in the public sector, clearly point to struggles against employers developing in the next year. In these circumstances, every public sector union should now prepare to defend our services.

In concrete terms this means NIPSA must involve itself in the fight and pose a challenge to our local parties who support Blairs's agenda. There is also a wider obligation on the trade union movement to challenge the Assembly parties in elections by putting forward candidates who will provide an alternative for workers. It is no longer acceptable for the trade union movement to leave the field clear for parties who promote not only a sectarian agenda but now also an anti-working class agenda.

Elect All Officials

By Padraig Mulholland

NORTHERN IRELAND'S largest trade union, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA), will elect its new General Council at the end of January and there is no doubt that it will be the most fiercely contested election ever.

In 2002, the old conservative leadership lost control of the General Council for the first time in its history. The campaign group "Time for Change" took 13 of the 25 seats on the body achieving an overall majority on the Executive for the first time.

In theory, NIPSA is led by the General Council which is the elected leadership of the union. In reality, there is also an unelected leadership of NIPSA, the permanent officials who are based in union HQ.

They are appointed into position and are not elected. So, in effect, the members of NIPSA have no direct influence over their activity. In November, "Time for Change" challenged this situation by standing Carmel Gates as a candidate in the General Secretary election for the only negotiating official position elected by the membership. A hard fought campaign led to a significant 39% of NIPSA members voting for the TFC candidate.

The General Secretary election has shattered any illusions that our officials have no vested interest in who is the elected leadership of the union. During the campaign many NIPSA officials spent their time attending campaign organising meetings, intervening in branches and workplaces and actively campaigning for a vote for the right wing candidate. It is fundamental for the future development of a democratic fighting union directed by the membership that all negotiating officials are elected.

"Time for Change" will continue to campaign for full democracy within NIPSA and we ask members to elect a leadership that will continue this fight. Every member will receive a voting paper and manifestos in the coming weeks. Seven of the candidates are Socialist Party members. Make your vote count. Vote for the "Time for Change" candidates.

North: Bin The Bain Report - Act to Defend the Fire Service

By Peter Hadden

THE BLAIR government appears to have entered the new year determined to go to war, not just against Saddam Hussein, but against the firefighters. The opening shot of this war was the announcement that Section 19 of the 1947 Fire Services Act is to go. In simple terms this means that fire services can be slashed without any consultation with local communities.

This shows the real intent of the government - not to "modernise" but to dismantle the fire service as we know it. The vehicle for this assault is the Bain Report which Blair seems determined to implement.

On pay, Bain offers a miserly 4% this year and 7% on the pay-bill next year provided the proposed "reforms" are implemented in full. On conditions it demands a change in shift patterns and the introduction of overtime working. It proposes to cut the numbers of firefighters on duty at night. It wants to abolish the single tier entry procedure so that managers can be brought in from the private sector.

Meanwhile, the findings of a previously commissioned government review of fire cover, the Review of Standards of Emergency Cover, which reported in spring 2002, have been quietly buried. No wonder, given that this research project found an additional £1.6 billion should be invested in the fire service. It also concluded that 85% of fire brigades would need to double in size.

It is true that there are fewer fires at night but it is also the case that most casualties occur at night. Again, government statistics show that the public are three times more likely to suffer injury or death at night.

If Blair sticks to the Bain proposals, the FBU will need to give a determined response, bringing forward the strike action scheduled for the end of January. If limited action does not succeed, the question of an all out strike must be put on the agenda.

The FBU must not stand alone. The whole trade union movement needs to be mobilised to give money and other practical support. Any attempt to smash the FBU, using the courts or anti-union laws, should be answered by solidarity action. The firefighters can win, but they will need real support and solidarity forom other trade unionists and from the working class communities to do so.

Tony Maguire, secretary of the Northern Ireland region of the FBU, comments on the implications of the Bain Report:

"FBU members always suspected that we would be shafted with Bain. Our campaign for a fair wage for what we do is one issue, but Bain is quite another.

"We believe that the Review was engineered in such a fashion as to demoralise the rank and file FBU member and help create the situation whereby they could easily be demonised by an already hostile media. Let's not be in any doubt, if the Bain review is implemented it will impact ruthlessly on the terms and conditions of firefighters and emergency fire control staff, but it will also impact on the safety of every citizen in the country.

"Decisions to decommission or redeploy safety critical fire service resources could, and no doubt will be taken unilaterally by careerist chief fire officers on the basis of cost alone, and neither the unions, nor the public need be consulted!

This is the opening of the floodgate that the FBU has, for many years held closed in the interests of public safety. It is the public, and in particular people living in low cost, poorly maintained housing in need of modernisation that will pay for this madness with their lives!"

Other industrial and trade union reports are available. There are further FBU and Nipsa collections of reports.