09/27/2018 Comments are off Patrick Cole

Raise the Roof on 3rd October

It is no exaggeration to say that the housing crisis is damaging the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and their families.

As with any crisis it is working people, those on low and average incomes who suffer the most. Buying your own home is now beyond reach for a generation of young people.

The shortage of public, social and affordable housing means that tens of thousands are forced into the rental sector.

Rents are increasing, as landlords take advantage of the supply shortage despite the government cap in some parts of the country. Young workers and students find it almost impossible to find decent accommodation at affordable prices.

Families are forced into homelessness because rents are too high or because they cannot meet their mortgage repayments due to financial difficulty.

They are then forced into unsuitable accommodation in hotels or emergency hubs. A generation of children will grow up without knowing what a normal home is like.

The housing crisis is a perfect storm.

Unlike natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes, however, it is one that was foreseeable and avoidable. It can also be fixed if there is the political will to tackle the vested interests that benefit from this state of affairs.

That requires the Government, in particular, to recognise the scale of the crisis and to accept that property developers, builders and private landlords, whose primary motivation is to make profit, will not resolve it.

The current estimates of housing need are restricted to the numbers of households that qualify for social housing. This currently amounts to 85,799 households on local authority lists.

This, however, does not include tenants who are in the private rental sector in receipt of social housing supports like the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS). The HAP and RAS schemes are also very poor value for money as the State is handing over almost €750 million a year to private landlords.

They also deepen the rental and housing crisis by adding to demand rather than supply. The housing crisis is a crisis of supply, but it is the lack of social and affordable supply that is at its heart.

These tenants do not have security of tenure, as they can be evicted by landlords with little notice and are therefore still in housing need. The official figures do not include homeless households, those in direct provision, in domestic violence refuges, who are all clearly in housing need.

There are approximately 35,000 home owners over 360 days in arrears on their mortgage, and who are also clearly in distress. The real social housing need extends to some 185,505 households, over double current estimates.

This demonstrates the real scale of the crisis. If the Government is underestimating the real scale of the problem it is clearly going to be ineffective in meeting the actual level of housing need.

The latest proposal from government for a Land Development Agency (LDA) demonstrates clearly that the Government, and Fine Gael in particular, is still wedded to the false belief that the private sector can deliver the affordable, quality and secure housing to which every citizen is entitled.

While it claims that the LDA will deliver 150,000 new homes over 20 years, it concedes that none will completed before 2020. The proposal also involves the State handing over public land to private developers who will then be expected to deliver ‘up to’ 30% social and affordable housing on each project.

The cost of the affordable homes will be unattainable for many as wages and salaries struggle to keep up with property costs.

Over the past decade the State through the National Asset Management Agency has sold lands on which over 50,000 social and affordable homes could have been built.

Much of these lands remains idle as their private owners wait for prices to increase before they build on them or sell. Receivers handling NAMA controlled properties continue to sell land to the highest bidder instead of releasing them to meet public demand.

There is increasing acceptance, including by the State’s own research bodies that a core solution to the housing crisis is for the State to build more social and affordable housing in the form of new public housing in well planned, mixed income communities.

This can be achieved through cost rental and other forms of social and affordable provision delivered and managed by local authorities, co-operatives and a new housing agency and including the use of compulsory purchase orders to take over vacant buildings and sites.

A new alliance comprising the trade union movement, women’s organisations, students and the housing and homeless agencies have come together to demand radical action to address the crisis. A ‘Raise the Roof’ rally in support of a Dáil motion calling for such a programme for the construction of quality affordable public housing, to prevent evictions and to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution, will be held at Leinster House on Wednesday 3rd October.

It is essential that a powerful message is delivered to those in power who continue to put private interests before the public good in the delivery of homes.

09/24/2018 Comments are off Patrick Cole

SIPTU secure a proposal to address new entrants pay in the public service

SIPTU representatives have today (Monday, 24th September) secured a proposal from Government that will address outstanding pay issues for post 2011 new entrants in the public service.

SIPTU Deputy General Secretary for the Public Sector, John King, said: “SIPTU Public Services Division, in conjunction with other unions on the Public Services Committee of the ICTU, have secured a proposal from Government to address the outstanding issue of post 2011 new entrant pay in the public service. Union representatives secured this agreement from Government to address this issue as part of the negotiations on the extension to the Lansdowne Road Agreement.”

“The effective date of implementation of these measures of the 1st March 2019. This will see workers receive pay increases significantly earlier than originally anticipated. The Government proposal to address this long-standing pay injustice for new entrants has been long debated and considered by the parties. The negative impact this policy has had on thousands of workers across the public sector, including health, local authorities and education is undeniable, but now these workers have some light at the end of the tunnel.”

He added: “SIPTU representatives will be seeking the implementation of these proposals as laid out and will be demanding that the agreed dates for implementation are strictly adhered to by Government to the benefit of our members.”

Text of Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Paper below:

Agreed measure to address salary scale issues under Section 4 of the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA) 2018-2020

The following measure has been agreed by the Parties to the PSSA, informed by the Report to the Houses of the Oireachtas by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in accordance with Section 11 of the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act. It also reflects detailed discussions and analysis between the Public Services Committee and representatives of Public Service Employers. The outcome is considered the best that can be achieved in the context of the PSSA and the very significant other expenditure demands on the Exchequer for Budget 2019 and subsequent years.

  • Where two additional scale points were applied to pay scales under the Haddington Road Agreement, it is agreed that there will be two separate interventions in the pay scales as they apply to ‘new entrant’ public servants recruited since January 2011.
  • The two separate interventions will take place at point 4 and point 8 of pay scales. The practical effect of this is that for ‘new entrants’ the relevant points on the scale will be bypassed thereby reducing the time spent (by bypassing two increment points) on the scale for progression to the maximum point.
  • Where one additional scale point was applied to scales, a single point of intervention will apply at point 4.
  • This measure will apply from 1 March 2019 and will be applied to each eligible new entrant as they reach the relevant scale points (point 4 and point 8) on their current increment date.
  • Due to the interaction with normal increment progression, the above means that existing ‘new entrant’ staff)whose next increment after 1 March 2019)is Point 7 or above on relevant scales will receive the benefit of both interventions on the date of their next normal increment. Existing ‘new entrant’ staff due to reach points 5 or 6 on relevant scales as their next normal increment will get the benefit of the first intervention on that date and the second when they progress to Point 8.
  • All of the above is subject to not exceeding the scale max. Where necessary the waiting time for Long Service Increments (LSIs) where they currently apply in relevant scales will be reduced by one or two years as appropriate as part of the implementation of the above measure.

The cost of this measure during the remaining term of the PSSA is €75m.

It is estimated some 58% (35,750) of ‘new entrants’ will benefit from this measure in year 1 rising to 78% (47,750) by year 2.

The above measure will be given effect by way of a detailed Circular in due course.

09/23/2018 Comments are off Patrick Cole

After Brexit… Partition on steroids

IF BRITAIN crashes out of the EU, the Irish Government will be reluctantly forced to erect border checks to remain a member of the European Single Market and EU Customs Union.

If Britain agrees on a free trade agreement with the EU, border checks will still be required as the UK is refusing to sign up to full regulatory alignment with the EU.

Either which way the prospects are bleak for a no land border check scenario on the island of Ireland.

Despite strong support by the member states towards Ireland’s terrible predicament arising from Brexit, the current or future Irish Government will face a choice between a no hard border scenario or maintaining full membership of the EU with all its associated rules and advantages.

An alternative to a hard border will only happen in one of two ways. In the North, the DUP would have to blink first and concede that Northern Ireland should have special EU protected status. In that instance, Northern Ireland would remain an EU member when the rest of the UK would not. The alternative is that UK will remain in the EU but it is hard to imagine either scenario being realised.

Best case scenario: we are just 15 months away from when the UK fully exits the European Union. Worse case: this will happen in March 2019.

Where did it all go wrong? The original plan was that negotiators would be about to conclude the second phase of the exit talks around now in time for October’s summit of EU leaders.

On March 1st, the UK would enter a new transition period with the clock ticking towards December 2020, the end of the transition agreement.

Sadly, the current mess means that the first phase remains unresolved – the British government has backslided from the ‘backstop’ – the promise that there would be no hard border whether not there was a Brexit agreement.

And the second phase is in tatters. The so-called ‘Chequers proposal’ agreed in May by the UK cabinet was the UK contribution to the second round; the round that would set out the parameters for a EU-UK trade agreement in advance of the technical detail being worked out. EU negotiators rightly highlight that there can be no cherry picking.

There are suggestions now of a CETA-like deal – Canadian Europe Trade Agreement.

More will be known at a crucial informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Salzberg next month. Whether it will be a free trade deal, a regulation and trade deal or no deal, all roads lead to border checks. The question is what type?

The best we can hope for is that it will be a low friction border.

The Swedish-Norwegian border is considered to be the most advanced in the world.

Despite extensive use of technology, a common legal framework for border operations, plus an economic area agreement which sees Norway mirror EU regulatory standards for goods, both countries require a pre-arrival declaration at least one hour prior to arrival at one of the 14 border posts between the two countries.

Some products can cross unmanned border crossing but they too are subject to pre-arrival declarations and additional special conditions.

This is the product of six decades of customs cooperation between both countries.

09/18/2018 Comments are off Patrick Cole

SIPTU says significant progress made in negotiations on pay justice for Section 39 workers

SIPTU representatives have said that significant progress has been made in negotiations today (Tuesday, 18th September) with officials from the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Department of Health to resolve a pay dispute for members working in Section 39 organisations.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “The engagement today was challenging but extremely productive. The principle of pay restoration was accepted by the Government side. The parties have now adjourned until Tuesday, 2nd October to consider a number of matters including a timetable and process for pay restoration over an agreed period of time and how the mechanics of pay restoration will be implemented. These talks were convened to bring about a resolution to the national dispute concerning pay justice for Section 39 workers and we are confident that we have made significant progress.”

He added: “What has emerged from these negotiations today is that there is an opportunity to provide a clear roadmap for Section 39 organisation workers to have their pay restored in a manner which corresponds to their counterparts directly employed by the HSE.”

09/16/2018 Comments are off Patrick Cole

A New Ambition, New Direction for Health

Next month, SIPTU Health Division activists will debate several key motions at its Biennial Delegate Conference (BDC) in Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Cork that call for a new direction on how public health services are delivered.

Right alongside housing and precarious work, the funding of our health service is the number one concern for SIPTU members.

Over the last number of months, we have seen the tragic consequences the outsourcing of vital work has had on our health services and the chances of low paid health workers owning a home become a pipedream.

SIPTU Health Divisional Organiser, Paul Bell says that SIPTU members will have an opportunity to discuss and debate motions on how health workers can be more ambitious when it comes to campaigning to address these vital issues.

Minister for Disabilities, Finian McGrath, broadcaster and journalist, James Bloodworth whose book “Hired” delves into the ever-expanding growth of precarious work and CervicalCheck campaigner Vicky Phelan are among the several high profile speakers who will address the conference.

An exclusive interview with James Bloodworth will be premiered on Sunday 30th September.

09/14/2018 Comments are off Patrick Cole

SIPTU defer Section 39 strike action following intervention from Minister for Health

SIPTU Health representatives, as affiliates to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, have this afternoon (Friday, 14th September) agreed to accept an invitation from the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) scheduled for Tuesday 18th September.

The move is in response to an understanding that the Department of Health and Health Service Executive have a position to communicate which may resolve the pay justice claim of Section 39 workers.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “In response to the intervention from the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, today and at the request of the WRC, SIPTU representatives have agreed to defer strike action scheduled for Tuesday 18th September. It is through the commitment and collective efforts of our shop stewards and members that this crucial position has been reached.”

He added: “The decision taken by our representatives to defer strike action was not taken lightly and is down to the efforts of the WRC, ICTU and our members’ determination to win pay justice without impacting on the clients they care for. The strike action is temporarily deferred and not cancelled. Should the engagement at the WRC not be successful, we will reactivate the strike notice with immediate effect.”

SIPTU will not allow Section 39 workers battle to pay justice to be ignored

SIPTU representatives have today (Friday, 14th September) confirmed that thousands of Section 39 health and social care workers will participate in a one day national strike next Tuesday (18th September) to highlight their claim for full pay restoration.

A demonstration to be addressed by ICTU General Secretary, Patricia King, outside the Department of Health in Dublin will take place from noon on the same day.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “Our members deferred strike action last February at the request of the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, to allow for a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) process to be initiated.

The process was designed to allow for an orderly resolution to our members’ legitimate dispute. The process agreed between the parties in February resulted in the gathering of data from fifty nominated Section 39 employers which confirmed that none of these organisations had the necessary financial resources to commence pay restoration.”

He added: “What is most staggering about this dispute is that An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, confirmed on the floor of Dáil Eireann that these workers, many of them low paid, have an established pay link with the public service and as such are entitled to pay restoration in line with directly employed counterparts, under the FEMPI legislation. It should be remembered that Dáil Eireann voted unanimously in favour of a Fianna Fail private members’ motion seeking pay restoration for these workers.

It is incomprehensible to our members that the Government and HSE acknowledge that the monies are owed, yet will not pay them.

“The WRC process did produce a formula of how Section 39 organisations could make applications for the funding necessary to pay our members. SIPTU, ICTU and other unions have agreed that this proposed formula is acceptable.

However, the formula can only work with initial funding in the region of €4 million. It is also important to recognise that this campaign for pay justice has received cross-party support, including from disabilities minister, Finian McGrath, and massive public backing.”


09/10/2018 Comments are off AideenC

Women’s rights activist Sylvia Meehan dies aged 89

Tributes have been paid to Irish women’s rights activist and trade unionist Sylvia Meehan, who has died aged 89.

Her death follows a long illness, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) has said.

Ms Meehan studied legal and political science at UCD, where she was the first woman to win the UCD Literary and Historical Association gold medal in 1951.

She began her career in teaching, becoming heavily involved with the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland trade union during her teaching years and the Women’s Committee of Ictu.

She served as the first chair and chief executive of the Employment Equality Authority, from its establishment in 1997 until 1992.

In 1977, she left teaching to become the first chief executive of the Employment Equality Agency, which was established to oversee the enforcement of the Employment Equality Act.She has been particularly credited with being instrumental in the movement towards achieving equal pay for women.

In more recent years, she served as President of the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament.

The President, Michael D Higgins, said her pioneering work on equality in education and employment had left a lasting legacy.

“In her life, Sylvia Meehan overcame many challenges, becoming a tenacious campaigner for workers’ rights, determined to promote the inclusion and empowerment of women, older people and all vulnerable sections of society.

“Her energy, vision and dynamism were directed at making Ireland a more empowering, informed and welcoming society.”

Ictu General Secretary Patricia King said Ms Meehan’s “pioneering work paved the way for a generation of feminists”.

“Sylvia believed that woman must demand their place at the negotiating table and encouraged greater participation by women in the trade union movement, in civic society and in politics,” said Ms King.

Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland Orla O’Connor said Ms Meehan “will be a great loss not only for her family but for the women’s movement in Ireland.”

Minister for Equality, Immigration and Integration, David Stanton said he was “very saddened” to learn of Ms Meehan’s death.

“An inspiring role model and a campaigner for equality when it was far from fashionable, she has been hugely influential across a long career which spanned teaching, public service as the first Chair of the Employment Equality Agency, and advocacy,” he said.

“We take inspiration from her example as we continue to work for full gender equality. On behalf of Minister Flanagan and on my own behalf, I extend our deepest sympathies to Sylvia’s family and friends.”

Sinn Féin spokesman for workers’ rights David Cullinane said Ms Meehan was an “outstanding advocate and activist”.

Ms Meehan is survived by her five children, John, Niall, Sarah, Richard and Rosa.

This article was written by Áine McMahon for the Irish Times, September 6th, 2018

Congress Calls on Government to Restore Pay to Section 39 Workers

Today (Monday, September 3rd) ICTU General Secretary Patricia King has called on the Government to restore pay to Section 39 workers, in line with the public sector agreement. King has specifically called on the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Health to immediately make available resources to resolve the dispute.

“The workers in Section 39 Organisations had their pay cut in line with cuts imposed on workers in the public sector. Now that pay is being restored in the public sector workers in Section 39 Organisations should also receive the terms of the public sector pay agreement.”

Patricia King’s comments follow a meeting earlier today in which SIPTU, FÓRSA and UNITE confirmed that they would be consulting with members to consider what action is appropriate in light of the failure of Government to address the issue of pay restoration for workers in Section 39 Organisations.

09/02/2018 Comments are off Patrick Cole

5 tips for Tories’ Brexit negotiators

The Brexit negotiations between the EU and UK government are entering perhaps their most critical period. I use the term “negotiations” loosely.

As trade unionists, we all know a thing or two about negotiations. We know that there are a number of common key principles which apply, whether you are negotiating a restructuring or a pay claim, or even a process to extract your state out of the EU. I would suggest there are five key principles.

First, you have to know what it is you want. Second, what you want has to be achievable and realisable. Third, you have to have a strategy to achieve this. Fourth, you need to bring your people with you.Fifth and finally you don’t need to like the other side, but at some stage, you have to let them know what they have to do to settle.

Under each of these criteria, this Tory UK government has failed abysmally.

Were the consequences not so serious for us all it would be laughable.

The EU is very clear in its position. An agreement has to be reached by the October Council meeting as the agreement has to be ratified by each of the remaining 27 EU member states and this has to occur before the end of March 2019 when the UK is due to leave to EU.

Given the chaotic nature of the “negotiations” on the side of the UK government, the reality is unless Teresa May can hold a depleted and fractured Cabinet together, her Cabinet talks will probably break down.

Losing David Davis and Boris Johnson may only be the beginning of her government implosion. However, if May can push her latest position on Brexit through her party and parliament in the coming weeks and months, and the EU reach a compromise with her government, a soft Brexit is possible.

However, the EU is unlikely to accept May’s latest White Paper proposals as they stand.

All the while the people of these islands potentially suffer the ever-increasing prospect of a devastating hard Brexit.

The ICTU has been particularly active in articulating the interests of workers and citizens north and south of the Irish border.

We are focusing on the social, economic and political consequences of Brexit, seeking that workers on the island of Ireland do not pay the price of Brexit.

Our key priorities include employment, trade, living standards, the peace process, rights and avoiding a hard border north and south but, equally important, east and west.

We are engaging with Michel Barnier and his team, the Irish government through the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the UK government through the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the international trade union movement through the ETUC and the English, Welsh and Scottish TUCs and all other political parties and key social partners north and south.

In recent weeks the ICTU met with Jeremy Corbyn and his team at our Belfast offices on Brexit. Most of us in the trade union movement would like to see a change of government in Britain and the return of Labour to power.

However, it is clear on the issue of Brexit, the British Labour Party is also quite divided and it has some way to travel on the issue of Brexit to stand up for the interests of workers.

Clearly many of the UK unions, and indeed the TUC with ICTU’s support, have played an important role in bringing the British Labour Party on a journey. UNITE has indicated support for an alternative approach to Brexit.

However, it is clear that Labour has yet to reach that final destination which, if it is to be in the interests of workers on the island of Ireland (irrespective of their views on the constitutional issue) and workers across Britain, has to be the softest Brexit possible.

That means the UK as a whole remaining in the Single Market and in a Customs Union. There are many people, including trade unionists, now calling for a referendum on the final deal.

Returning to the analogy at the start of this article on the key elements to any negotiation, whether it be a pay claim or a restructuring, or indeed leaving the EU, what is wrong with letting the members and the people have the final say?

This article was written by Assistant General Secretary of the ICTU, Owen Reidy.