Recently, the Dept of Finance issued the Draft Public Sector Pay Agreement 2010-14, in conjunction with the Social Partners; this agreement, if passed by the Unions, will have major implications for work practices and conditions.
It is my opinion, however, that this agreement represents something far more insidious: an attack on organised labour. At a time of national catastrophe, when anti-public sector sentiment has been stoked to boiling point, the government has seized the opportunity to deliver a hammer-blow to the cause of labour – one which could set the movement back decades.
Between all the HR verbiage, one thing is evident: the balance of power will now have shifted firmly to the side of management. Workers, and their Union representatives, are relegated to mere consultative status – the policy decisions will have been made, workers are obliged to accept them and co-operate in their implementation. But more than this, the Agreement may be accepted, its proposals effected, then the entire document may be shelved if there is “unforeseen budgetary deterioration.” (Document 1, Page 9, para.28)
While the document speaks of the laudable goal of “delivering excellence in service to the Irish People”, this must be achieved “in the context of reduced resources and numbers”; in other words, the same, or increased, workloads with fewer personnel. This reduction of workers is happening as we speak – the Defence Forces is down to its lowest post-war levels at 9,366, substantially below its Establishment of 10,500. In the Education sector, 2,000 teachers and Special Needs Assistants have lost their jobs; at third level, contract personnel are not having their contracts renewed, Contracts of Indefinite Duration are being actively avoided, in defiance of the Protection of Employees (Fixed Term Work) Act, 2003.
In addition, by accepting the document, employees and unions (and employers, for what it’s worth!) are precluded from engaging in “strikes, or other forms of industrial action…in respect of any matters covered by th[e] Agreement”
The diminution of workers’ rights continues throughout the Sectoral Agreements documents: we see, for instance, that an extensive “review and revision of employment contracts” is to take place, which purports to “identify and remove any impediments to the development of an optimum teaching…environment.” The particular wording of this section, appears to give management carte blanche to define what an “optimum…environment” is, and what constitutes an “impediment”. Further, by accepting this agreement, employees must agree to the removal of any such impediment. There exist other provisions in which employees must co-operate with the introduction/implementation of workload models, and with redeployment/re-organisation/rationalisation. Promotion, and indeed increments, will be linked to nebulous “performance indicators”.
Inconsistencies, or perhaps plain stupidity, abound. Take this, for example, from the Civil Service Sectoral Agreement: “Management reaffirms the importance of the continued promotion of the work life balance arrangements in the Civil Service.” So far, so good, one may think! However the paragraph goes on to state that “[t]he transformation agenda accepted by both sides requires that previously agreed work-life balance policies and arrangements may need to be reviewed and revised as appropriate in the context of more integrated public services and with a reduced cohort of staff.” Does anyone doubt that such practices will be revised, and that the benefit will be to management or the organisation?
Here’s another gem, from the Prison Service Sectoral Agreement, which, in all likelihood was drafted by someone who doesn’t have day-to-day contact with criminals: the ” Introduction of enhanced sentence management processes.” This section tells us that there are “progressive regimes” operating throughout Europe, and offers Northern Ireland’s system as a case in point, where “prisons…promote mutual respect, a positive working relationship with staff, other professionals and fellow prisoners.” Such a regime would “form the basis of proposed…changes in the Irish Prison Service” and would “allow reduced staffing levels where feasible…freeing up staff to open new areas of the prison estate.” So if I read this correctly, Prison Officers are to engage, with the criminals they oversee, to reduce their own presence on landings and wings, so that they can take on additional tasks opening up, and controlling, more areas of the prison, possibly with reduced staff.
The Public Service has been treated shamefully, and cynically, by our political masters – we have been offered as the reason why the country’s finances are in such turmoil, while the real culprits remain virtually unscathed. The Public Service has suffered most with salary reductions and levies, the vast majority of these workers are on or below the average industrial wage, yet senior Civil Servants have cuts reversed, politicians refuse to forego pay increases, and the banking system can afford bonuses to its employees.
Now, Public Service workers are being asked to suffer further attacks on conditions, on pay, ands on their rights as workers, all in the name of “sharing the pain”, whatever that means. But we are not fools. To date, the TUI and ASTI have recommended rejection of the agreement to their members, the INTO recommendation passed by only four votes, indicating serious concerns by delegates.
One would hope that the other Public Service Unions or Associations will also recommend rejection, otherwise we will be treated little better than serfs.
The Public Service Agreement can be found at the following link: