Patrick Cole

13/10/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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St Vincent’s workers ‘deserve better’ as SIPTU justice campaign steps up

SIPTU members in St Vincent’s Centre in Cork took their campaign for justice directly to the Office of the Revenue Commissioners last week.

SIPTU Industrial Organiser, Sharon Cregan, said: “We took our campaign directly to the Revenue offices in an effort to highlight this injustice. We had a great turnout and our members are determined to get a result. It is unacceptable that loyal workers who provide such a vital community service should be left to remain in employment limbo while management and Government can ignore us. Despite the fact that our members pay PRSI they are being denied vital access to basic social welfare entitlements, such as dental and optical benefits.

It is not right and it is not fair. These workers deserve better.”

St Vincent’s, is a Section 39 organisation, was previously governed by the Sisters of Charity. A proposal for the workers to be transferred to the COPE Foundation was put forward in the autumn of 2018 following an interim arrangement with the HSE.

09/10/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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SIPTU conference calls on Government to lift health service recruitment embargo

SIPTU delegates have voted unanimously in favour of a call on the Government to lift the embargo on recruitment into the health services and to immediately fill all vacate positions at the union’s Biennial Conference taking place in City Hall, Cork, today (9th, October).

Proposing an emergency motion on the issue, SIPTU Health Division President, Broc Delaney, said: “The HSE is operating a recruitment embargo across all grades in the health service and related agencies. Across the country, hundreds of vacancies exist throughout the health service, posts which have been identified by managers delivering services and approved on paper for immediate filling.”

He added: “Notwithstanding the appalling impact on sick and vulnerable people the embargo is also creating a dynamic for outsourcing of health services to the private sector and breaching protections which were hard fought for in public service agreements. The pressure on existing health service staff has brought them to breaking point. The concern of our members for their patients and those in their care is driving this call for a complete lifting of the staffing embargo.”

08/10/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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SIPTU criticises contradictory and regressive Budget

SIPTU General Secretary designate, Joe Cunningham, has said that Budget 2020 is muddled, contradictory and regressive.

“Workers paid for the banking crisis and the budgetary crisis.  Now it seems our members and other workers are expected to pay for Brexit and the climate crisis. In our view the budget is muddled, contradictory and regressive,” Joe Cunningham said.

“Unless there is strict accountability, the Brexit fund promised in the Budget 2020 could become a massive handover to employers.  All the stakeholders – employees, employers and the State – must be involved in the design, monitoring and evaluation of any spending from this fund.   It is crucial that good faith employers’ – those employers that participate in, and abide by, the state’s industrial relations machinery – be given particular preference.”

“They have projected falling investment and housing construction in a ‘no-deal’ scenario.  Yet, it has not taken the opportunity to spend even a small portion of the €20 billion in state savings to build more public housing.  Such investment would not only be a boost to the productive economy through lower rents, it also would be a proper response to falling growth. The increase in the Housing Assistance Payment to landlords in the budget is twice as much as the cost of projected social housing construction. This is a continuation of a failed housing policy. Instead of a State, local authority led investment programme to build public and affordable housing the Government is relying on the private sector and landlords to resolve the housing emergency. It will not work.

“Under these proposals, most recipients of social protection will suffer real cuts in their living standards as inflation, including the carbon tax increase, erodes the value of their weekly rates.

“The Government’s carbon tax increase fails on two grounds.  It is not sufficient to change behaviour, but it will impact negatively on the vast majority of low and average income groups.  The increase in fuel allowance only affects one-in-three social protection recipients and does not benefit those in work.  This budget will not promote either climate justice or Just Transition notwithstanding the commitment to provide €30 million for communities which depend on peat production in the Midlands.

“SIPTU members are particularly disappointed at the Government’s failure to address the crisis in childcare.  Ireland has one of the highest levels of childcare fees in the EU, while early educators are among the lowest paid.”

07/10/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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SIPTU and USI strengthen relationship with new agreement on joint campaigns

SIPTU and the Union of Students of Ireland (USI) have today (Monday, 7th October) announced the renewal of an agreement between the two organisations to facilitate joint campaigns and provide third level students with support in the workplace.

The agreement was formally announced by the SIPTU General Secretary Designate, Joe Cunningham, at the union’s Biennial Delegate Conference in City Hall, Cork. It provides for joint actions, mutual support and the development of a closer relationship between the two organisations into the future.

SIPTU Head of Strategic Organising and Campaigns, Darragh O’Connor, said: “Among the initiatives that are being launched as part of the agreement is the ability of USI members to utilise SIPTU support services in relation to issues in the workplace. The organisations will also jointly run a ‘Rights at Work’ campaign.”

USI Deputy President and Vice President for Campaigns, Michelle Byrne, said: “Students are the workers of today and tomorrow. Many are putting themselves through higher education by working part time jobs and once graduated all will continue into the workforce. It is important that students understand the benefits of the partnership between USI and SIPTU. All students who are members of Students Unions who are affiliated with USI will gain access to the benefits of SIPTU membership.

“Students and workers have a fantastic history of galvanising together as one force. Through the partnership of USI and SIPTU, we look forward to continuing this trend into the future. Workers’ rights are students’ rights.”

SIPTU General Secretary Designate, Joe Cunningham, said: “Today, we have renewed the agreement between SIPTU and USI that has been in place for over ten years. This agreement further strengthens the relationship between students and union members. It provides the potential for even greater cooperation between SIPTU and USI and the wider trade union movement on the great issues that affect students, workers and society.”

06/10/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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Budget 2020 needs to Brexit proof economy

With less than a month to go before Britain leaves the EU, there is deep uncertainty over the impact a ‘no-deal’ Brexit will have on the Irish economy.

Tens of thousands of jobs, including members of SIPTU many in the agri-food industry, are under threat. Exports to Britain and to Europe across the UK land bridge could face severe disruption while the return of any form of hard border will jeopardise the hard won peace settlement and cross border co-operation on the island.

According to the ESRI and the Central Bank growth, employment and wages will slow and prices will rise due to Brexit and particularly a no-deal Brexit.

In fact, the Central Bank is predicting we could be flirting with recession. The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, is hinting at tax cuts with an eye to an election next Spring and has ruled out an emergency budget in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.

It is almost as if there is no housing or crisis, not to mind the emergencies in our health service, in elder care and early years education.

Of course, no one can predict the impact of Brexit – deal or no-deal. This is a once-in-a- lifetime event. There is no past experience which can guide projections. Therefore, it is proper that the Government is basing Budget 2020 on a worst-case scenario.

However, there are already some ominous kites being flown about. For example, pension payments will be frozen with only secondary benefits rising. That would mean a real cut to pensions (factoring in inflation).

This could be extended to all social protection payments. This would amount to below-the-radar austerity – letting inflation do the dirty work while saving the Government money.

Therefore, we need to be vigilant to the fine print.

Even before new budget measures, the Government intends to freeze current spending per capita in real terms over the next few years – spending on public service and social protection. It wouldn’t take much of a budgetary adjustment to turn that freeze into real cuts.

Whatever about the implications for below- the-radar austerity, what is the Government proposing to pro-actively counter a Brexit slowdown? So far there is a Brexit fund to support enterprises and sectors that are hard hit.

Employees and their trade union should be directly involved in the design, monitoring and evaluation of resources spent and supports for firms to minimise the impact. After all, it is workers and their livelihoods at stake. However, the Government doesn’t seem interested, which means they will forgo the experience, ideas and innovation that workers in these enterprises can bring.

The Government could strengthen the economy through a Short-Time Work Scheme. Instead of laying workers off, this scheme would allow businesses to introduce work- sharing for their workforce with top-ups from the Government to maintain workers’ incomes as was done successfully in Germany after the 2008 financial crash.

Another measure would be to adjust pay- related unemployment benefit. If people lose their jobs, unemployment benefit would be pegged at 60% to 75% of their wage rather than fall to a flat-rate €203 per week. This would not only help maintain people’s living standards, it would help maintain their spending power so that other sectors (retail, hospitality) don’t suffer a fall in consumer spending.

And what about a little redistribution? The ICTU has called for a net assets tax (wealth tax) to raise nearly €400 million. This could be used for social investment such as affordable childcare which would raise wages in the sector and reduce fees.

This would put money into the pockets of workers and parents without any negative impact on borrowing and deficits.

Another instrument to combat a downturn would be to take the ‘surplus’ which NAMA is promising to transfer to the Government (some €4 billion over the next two years) and build public housing – to reduce rents and house prices.

Not only would this boost economic activity, it would divert money away from landlords and developers and into the productive economy. Building houses is a win-win proposition.

A Brexit slowdown should not be used as an excuse to defer necessary action on the climate emergency. The carbon tax should go ahead but only on condition of a Carbon Dividend – returning the revenue to households through a flat-rate payment.

This would benefit low-average income households and reduce income inequality, an excellent instrument during a downturn.

These are just some of the steps that are necessary to Brexit-proof the economy. Indeed, these measures should be taken regardless of a slowdown. These steps would increase productivity, economic efficiency and social stability.

Unfortunately, early signals from government leaks are not encouraging. If these and other progressive proposals don’t appear in Budget 2020, SIPTU members will continue campaigning for their introduction.

29/09/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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New survey finds poverty pay rates forcing Early Years educators out of jobs

The inaugural Early Years Professionals’ survey has found that 90% of educators are questioning their future in the childcare sector with low rates of pay the main issue.

In a sector with an annual turnover of staff of 25%, childcare services are struggling to retain qualified, experienced workers with the survey finding the problem may worsen with more than half of all those working in the sector actively looking for a different job.

Other key findings include that 94% of childcare workers cannot make ends meet on their pay, while in a sector which overwhelmingly employs women 66% don’t receive paid maternity leave.

The survey was carried out during June 2019 by Dr Amy Greer Murphy, a social scientist who uses qualitative research to understand inequality and the impact of public policy on social and health outcomes.

She said: “Over 3,200 individuals responded to the survey including educators, room leaders, owner-managers, managers and assistant managers. The findings of the survey highlight the difficulties facing Early Years professionals in Ireland today. We gathered responses from workers all around the country who stated overwhelmingly that they felt undervalued and underpaid.”

Greer Murphy added: “This indicates the need for government to engage with employees in the sector to ensure their working conditions are improved and to guarantee the children in their care get the best experience possible.”

Early Years educator, Claire Casey, said: “In common with all other Early Years teachers, I have sacrificed a lot in order to work in the profession which I love and which I believe is vitally important to the country.”

SIPTU Head of Organising and Campaigns, Darragh O’Connor, said: “The results of the survey reveal not only the major issues facing Early Years educators but also their solutions. The educators are saying they will have to leave their jobs if their conditions do not change.”

He added: “In response the SIPTU Big Start campaign is calling on the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to reform the Early Childhood Education and Care sector. The first step is for the Government to invest in the sector by ensuring the minimum rate of pay for workers is the Living Wage.”

18/09/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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SIPTU Health members overwhelmingly endorse Labour Court recommendations on job evaluation scheme

SIPTU members working as health service support staff have voted by 95.65% to 4.35% in favour of a Labour Court recommendation aimed at resolving a dispute over a HSE job evaluation scheme.

The result of the vote was announced today (Wednesday, 18th September) in Liberty Hall, Dublin. In a separate ballot, chefs working for the Health Service Executive (HSE) also voted overwhelmingly by a margin of 98.1% to 1.9% in favour of acceptance of the terms of a Labour Court recommendation concerning a dispute related to a grading process that could see an improvement to their payment and conditions.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell said:  “It was never our members’ desire to engage in strike action but after months of obstruction were left with no option but to express themselves and their frustrations. Their strength and resolve is the reason we are here today with this emphatic result and a mandate to pursue phases 3 and 4 of the job evaluation scheme for support grades and a satisfactory conclusion to an agreed process for chef members.

We expect that the Government will respond positively and quickly to these ballot results and that our members will receive the payments due to them without any unnecessary delay.

17/09/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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SIPTU calls on Revenue to end employment limbo for workers in St. Vincent’s Centre, Cork

SIPTU representatives have today (Tuesday, 17th September) called on the Office of the Revenue Commissioners to intervene in an effort to lift workers of St Vincent’s Centre in Cork city out of employment limbo.

SIPTU Industrial Organiser, Sharon Cregan, said: “It is unacceptable that loyal workers who provide such a vital community service should be left to remain in employment limbo while management sit on their hands. Our members also are being denied vital access to basic social welfare entitlements, such as dental and optical benefits. This injustice has been rumbling on since 2017. Staff were advised, on foot of HIQA recommendation that the service was to be de-registered and that the Health Service Executive (HSE) would assume responsibility of the centre pending the implementation of a different service provider.

“Over a year later, in September 2018, it was announced the COPE Foundation were proposed to take over the St. Vincent’s Centre and TUPE legislation would apply, protecting our members terms and conditions. Since then, no substantial progress has been made. Our members’ are now demanding that the Revenue Commissioners step in. We have the intolerable situation now where staff pension contributions are being deducted from the staff’s salaries continuously since March 2017 and in the possession of the HSE but at the same time being advised by the pension scheme administrator that their scheme is “closed off”.”

She added: “We were also advised that the HSE and the Sisters of Charity were to enter a mediation process and we have heard nothing since. It is our understanding that there is a case before the High Court in respect of defining the “actual employer” since the religious order stood down in March 2017. What makes matters more stressful for members is that the COPE Foundation cannot be ‘engaged’ as the employer until a definitive judgement is made.”

St Vincents, a Section 39 organisation, was previously governed by the Sisters of Charity. A proposal for the workers to be transferred to the COPE Foundation was put forward in the Autumn of 2018 following an interim arrangement with the HSE.

14/09/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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Sunday Read: No-deal Brexit crisis deepens for workers

A previously suppressed British government report has predicted that a no-deal Brexit would cause chaos to cross border trade in Ireland, drive firms out of business in the North and generate civic unrest and disruption to road transport.

The Operation Yellowhammer no-deal planning document also suggests that the automatic application of EU tariffs and regulatory requirements on goods crossing south across the border will severely disrupt trade.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has also warned of potentially devastating job losses across the country particularly in the agri-food sector where thousands of workers are members of SIPTU.

Congress has said that the threat of Brexit has caused huge uncertainty for workers North and South of the Border and has examined in detail this threat to jobs and business in its report “Preparing for Brexit – ICTU Proposals to support jobs and workers”.

Its key recommendations are:

  1. Establish a Short-Time Work Scheme to preserve jobs in firms at risk
  2. Establish a Brexit Adjustment Assistance Fund to upskill and retrain workers at risk while they are still in employment
  3. Ensure that the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund is able to support workers made redundant because of Brexit
  4. Involve both social partners in all Brexit-related preparations.

The author of the report, ICTU Policy Officer Ger Gibbons, said a Short-Time Work scheme “is intended to preserve jobs at firms temporarily experiencing low demand by encouraging work-sharing, while also providing income support to workers whose hours are reduced due to a shortened work-week or temporary lay-offs.”

A crucial aspect of such schemes is that the contract of an employee with the firm is maintained.

In Germany, a short-time work scheme had a significant impact on preserving jobs during the financial crisis.

The OECD states that short-time work schemes have played an important role in limiting job losses during the recession in a number of OECD countries. Congress General Secretary Patricia King said “we have asked Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphries to ensure that representatives of various Government departments are convened to ensure that such a scheme is developed urgently”

Another suggested measure is a Brexit Adjustment Assistance Fund. Gibbons said that Congress has been calling for the establishment of a Brexit Adjustment Assistance Fund (BAAF) to support workers whose jobs are most at risk from Brexit.

This instrument could be modelled on the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGAF) and the US Trade Adjustment Assistance Programme (TAA) but with the crucial difference that it would support workers currently in work rather than those who have been made redundant, as under the EGAF and the TAA.

For some workers, this up-skilling and retraining could take place in tandem with participation in a Short-Time Work Scheme. Congress also recommends that the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund is able to support workers made redundant because of Brexit and the necessity to involve both social partners in all Brexit-related preparations.