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.

11/09/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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SIPTU Nursing Sector launch Pink and Blue power campaign

This week, SIPTU Nursing Sector launched the Pink & Blue Power campaign, a potentially life-saving breast and prostate assessment service for members of the SIPTU Nurse & Midwife Income Continuance Plan with Cornmarket.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said: “Breast Cancer is the most common cancer in women in Ireland with 1 in 9 women diagnosed at some stage in their lives. Prostate Cancer is the second most common cancer in men in Ireland with 1 in 7 men diagnosed during their lifetime. Following a high level of cancer claims in the Plan, SIPTU Nursing & Midwifery Sector, together with Cornmarket, negotiated this benefit on behalf of members.”

He added: “As a result, in 2019/2020, eligible members can avail of this service as an added benefit of their SIPTU Nursing & Midwifery Income Continuance policy. Thousands of eligible SIPTU Nurse & Midwife members will be invited to attend their assessment, on area by area basis. Invites will be posted directly from the policy provider to members based on where they work.”

How the service works:

The service has been built by an excellent team of medical professionals, specifically for female members under age 50 and male members aged 40 – 65. There is currently no official national prostate or breast assessment service available in Ireland for these age groups (BreastCheck, the national breast cancer screening programme is only available for females over age 50).

The initial GP assessment only takes 15 minutes, but it could save a life. The cost is fully covered under member’s policies’. Assessments can be booked easily online once invites are received.

For members who require further investigation, they will get a rapid referral to the participating private hospitals. The cost of the follow-on consultation and any scans or biopsies required will also be covered, if a member doesn’t have health insurance.

Book an appointment here

10/09/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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Health workers September pay boost

This month, SIPTU members working in the health service will receive a 1.75% pay boost. The rise will also go to workers ‘section 38’ organisations including large voluntary hospitals.

The increase, which takes effect from 1st September, was negotiated by SIPTU and other unions as part of the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA).

This is the second pay adjustment to be implemented this year. The pay of public servants who earn who earn less than €30,000 a year went up by 1% in January, while those earning over €30,000 benefited from a reduced contribution to the ‘additional superannuation contribution,’ which replaced the so-called ‘pension levy’ under the PSSA.

There were also two increases – each worth 1% – in 2018. Next year will see a further adjustment to the additional superannuation contribution in January, and a 2% increase is due in October 2020.

To view the new HSE pay scales click here

Summary of income improvements

  • 1st January 2018: 1% pay adjustment
  • 1st October 2018: 1% pay adjustment
  • 1st January 2019: Additional superannuation contribution threshold up from €28,750 to €32,000 (worth €325 a year). 1% pay increase for those who don’t benefit (ie, those earning less than €30,000 a year)
  • 1st September 2019: 1.75% pay adjustment
  • 1st January 2020: Additional superannuation contribution threshold increased to €34,500 (worth €250 a year). 0.5% pay increase for those who don’t benefit (ie, those earning less than €32,000 a year)
  • 1st October 2020: 2% pay adjustment
  • 31st December 2020: Agreement concludes.

New entrantsThe term ‘new entrants’ refers to people who started work in the health service after 2011, when inferior pay scales for new staff were imposed by the Government without agreement.

Although those inferior scales (worth 10% less at every point of each scale) were abolished at unions’ insistence under the 2013 Haddington Road agreement, ‘new entrants’ continued to have longer pay scales than their longer-serving colleagues, with two lower pay points at the beginning of each scale.

Some grades also saw the abolition of certain allowances for new entrants.

The PSSA established a process involving the Public Service Pay Commission (PSPC) which, following detailed discussions and inputs from SIPTU and other unions, resulted in a solution of the pay scale issue in 2018.

This was at least two years earlier than the PSSA originally provided for.

Under these measures, ‘new entrants’ will skip two points – the fourth and eighth – on each pay scale. SIPTU representatives welcomed this outcome because it ensures a fair outcome for ‘new entrants’ regardless of their length of service.

07/09/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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Sunday Read: The Red Hand of union solidarity

Trade union badges first became commonplace with the rise of the ‘New Unionism’ of the 1890s among the previously unorganised dockers, carters and general workers in Britain and Ireland.

In order to ensure union members were given preferential treatment at the dock gate, a badge was issued to each member for a fixed period and then withdrawn in exchange for a different badge but only to those who cleared their contribution cards.

At the time of the Lockout, the four provincial emblems were being used in rotation by the ITGWU: the red hand of Ulster in 1913; the three crowns of Munster in 1915; the Connacht arms within a blue circle in 1917; and the harp of Leinster in 1918.

The most famous ITGWU badge was the red hand with the letters ITWU and the date of 1913. This was the emblem of resistance in the Lockout and was adopted as a cap badge by the Irish Citizen Army.

It also became immortalised in the song Who Fears to Wear the Blood Red Badge by the Scotsman Andrew Patrick Wilson that was published in the Irish Worker in October 1913.

In 1919, the ITGWU Executive decided to permanently use the red hand badge, which had become synonymous with the union in the public mind due to the events of the Lockout.

Song: Who Fears to Wear the Red Hand Badge

01/09/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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Lockout Series: Remembering the women of 1913

What women’s voices do we hear from the Lockout narrative? Perhaps the best known, in 2013 terms, would be that of Rosie Hackett, the meek-looking and tiny Jacob’s biscuit factory worker, trade unionist and protester.

For long an unsung hero of the Dublin Lockout and the 1916 Rising, her place in history has now been assured by the successful campaign to name a Dublin bridge after her, even though some claim her actual involvement in the Lockout was relatively minor.

Long after her death in the 1970s, Rosie’s campaign was helped by the fact that she is a female, working class hero at a time when labour and gender history is in an unusually popular phase, just as her achievements were not perhaps recognised in the past as they should have been because of her class and gender.

Constance Markievicz could be viewed as the counter to Rosie Hackett.

Born into a west of Ireland Anglo-Irish family, the Gore- Booths, Markievicz for many years was the female icon of 1913 and 1916 – a gun-toting hero who became the first woman elected to the British House of Commons, and was also elected to the Dáil serving as the first Minister for Labour.

Unlike Hackett, Markievicz’s role was always emphasised; she was noteworthy because she had been a young lady of high society, making her debut to Queen Victoria in 1887. She was also part of the dominant narrative of 20th century Irish history – nationalist republicanism.

Perhaps the shine on Markievicz’s star as an icon for Irish women hood and nationalism is fading as we witness a welcome upsurge in the popularity of labour history; perhaps, too, in this up- surge, her class plays against her.

There were many women, prominent or otherwise, we could mention in connection with 1913. The hundreds of women directly involved, the thousands whose families were in crisis as a result, who had to struggle to make ends meet during a time of extreme hardship.

Some of their stories were resurrected by the 1913 Alternative Visions oral history project researchers, who collected oral accounts of the legacy of the Lockout.

Suffragist and trade unionist Louie Bennett was among those who worked on the relief effort at Liberty Hall during the 1913 strike and Lockout in Dublin. She also called for financial support for strikers’ families, through the Irish Citizen.

Bennett, an inspirational character, founded the Irish Women’s Reform League, which investigated, among other issues, women’s working conditions.

Or the republican trade union activist and actress Helena Molony, who was an official of the IWWU for more than 20 years.

During the Lockout, Molony employed her acting skills to disguise James Larkin as a clergyman, bringing him into the Imperial Hotel, while posing as his niece, for Larkin’s famous balcony address to the crowd in Sackville Street, which resulted in the ‘Bloody Sunday’ police baton charge. She also addressed meetings about the Lockout.

Then there’s Delia Larkin, the sister of Big Jim Larkin, herself a towering figure in the trade union movement, another general secretary of the Irish Women Workers’ Union.

Larkin, who launched the IWWU, not only ran the food operation in Liberty Hall, but also was involved in trying to foster strikers’ children to families in Liverpool. Delia’s place in Irish history is assured, neatly behind her brother, James – as his tombstone in Glasnevin symbolises. On the front of the tombstone James Larkin’s attributes are mentioned, while the side bears the legend “and his sister Delia”.

It says a lot about how society values a woman who was a wonderful organiser in her own right, and the leading woman trade unionist of her day. Our schools history curriculums have paid scant attention to these women, even Markievicz.

One of the more valuable lessons we might learn is that unless we make a conscious effort to document the achievements of our female trade unionists, past and present, we are losing opportunities to point to women activists as role models.

This article was written by social historian Dr. Ida Milne.

Dr Milne is a historian who uses oral testimony to explore her research interests. With Dr. Mary Muldowney, she organised the 1913 Lockout Alternative Visionsoral history project, training trade unionists and community activists to collect oral histories in their workplace and communities.

29/08/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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A Victory for Support Grade Workers

As we prepare to ballot, let us reflect on the objectives of our PAY JUSTICE campaign, how far we have come by working together and what the NEXT STEPS in our campaign can achieve for you and thousands of members of our union.

The Recommendation comes at the end of a hard fought campaign in which you, the members, demonstrated your determination by taking strike action last June.

This action was taken after deep consideration, as a last resort, after the Government attempted to deny SIPTU members who were successful in Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the Job Evaluation scheme payment until 2021 and 2022.

Due to our members taking to the picket line intervention was made and after over 10 days the Labour Court determined that the objectives pursued by SIPTU representatives be addressed starting in September 2019.

Labour Court Recommendation at a Glance

SIPTU shop stewards have been the key factor in making the Support Staff Job Evaluation a reality for thousands of members across the country. Our campaign had two pillars:

  • Payment in 2019 to members successful in Phase 1 and Phase 2 of a Job Evaluation Scheme
  • A commencement and closing date for Job Evaluation for members in Phase 4

These two key objectives have been addressed and secured in Labour Court Recommendation 22066

To see LCR22066 in full click here.

Phase 1 and Phase 2

Should the Labour Court Recommendation be accepted, payments due to members successful in Phase 1 and Phase 2 will commence 1st September, 2019.

Phase 4

A commencement date for evaluation of members in Phase 4 will commence immediately on acceptance of the Recommendation.

In recognition of the timeframe to conclude Job Evaluations accurately and fairly, the Labour Court has recommended the cut-off date for completion of these evaluations and any payments due to members to not go beyond 1st January, 2021.

For Payment, For Progress. Vote in Favour of Pay Justice

As the Labour Court Recommendation delivers on the key objectives of our Pay Justice campaign we recommended that members VOTE IN FAVOUR of the recommendation.

A YES VOTE will help us move to the next phase of the campaign where thousands of members will receive increases in pay and thousands more will enter a process that allows for their jobs to be evaluated.

Public Service Stability Agreement

SIPTU members will also receive a pay boost of 1.75% this September due under the Public Service Stability Agreement and a further 2% increase in October 2020. This is in addition to upgrades and increases due to our members in all phases of Job Evaluation.

New Entrants

New Entrants agreement not effected by Labour Court recommendation.

Use your vote

SIPTU members in 38 hospitals and health care facilities will be voting on Labour Court Recommendation 22066 from Monday 12th August 2019 until Wednesday, 18th September, 2019.

Please contact your local Shop Steward and/or SIPTU representative for ballot details.

28/08/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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Chefs: A Step Closer to Pay Justice 

Chefs throughout the Irish Health Service have moved a significant step closer to securing pay justice.

Following intensive discussions and a lengthy industrial and political campaign the Labour Court has recommended that the Health Service Executive engage in a twelve week process under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission.

Thanks to the commitment and determination of our members and elected shop stewards SIPTU has secured a green light to negotiate the application of Craft Grades for Chef professionals employed in the health service.

The two key features of Labour Court Recommendation 22065:

  • A set twelve week time for negotiations.
  • Should the parties not reach agreement the Labour Court will intervene, address the parties on the issues in dispute and make a recommendation to bring our pay justice campaign to a conclusion.

The challenge

SIPTU representatives must secure the necessary funding of €2.2 million to make the initial jump to the new pay scales established for Craftworkers on a cost neutral basis.

SIPTU and Chef Shop Stewards have a significant amount of research already available having already completed a review of the Cooks Report through an independent process.


The opportunity 

The HSE and SIPTU have agreed to base our negotiations on the data available in this independent report which delivers pay justice and a recognised robust pay scale.

The decision on how we move forward is now yours. We are asking you to VOTE IN FAVOUR of the Labour Court Recommendation as the best way forward to secure pay justice for you and your profession.

Completing the journey 

It is through your determination and commitment which has made it possible to convince the HSE and the Labour Court that the issue of pay for Chef Professionals will not go away and must be resolved.

Let’s take the next steps to complete the journey.

Read the Labour Court recommendation here

25/08/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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Lockout Series: The divine mission of discontent

The Lockout of 1913, lasted from August 26th, 1913 to January 18th, 1914, and is generally viewed as the most severe and significant industrial dispute in Irish history.

Central to the dispute was the workers’ right to organise in a general trade union.

Employer William Martin Murphy banned his workers from being members of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU). Employers had been growing concerned about the growth of trade unionism and in particular the ITGWU and its charismatic leader, Jim Larkin, who had been organising Dublin’s low-paid workers, many of whom lived in slums.

On the eve of the 106th anniversary of the tram worker strike that signalled the beginning of the Lockout, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady looks at what we can learn from the Lockout, especially in building solidarity among workers and grasping the promise of a better future for all.

Fear and cynicism has always been the Right’s best weapon against working people.

How often have you heard it said that unions used to do a good job but have no chance in a modern world dominated by multinational corporations, forever on the scrounge for the cheapest labour and lowest tax regime?

When backs are up against the wall, isn’t it easier to blame the poor, the unemployed or migrants for falling living standards rather than big business or bankers’ greed?

And, as for politicians, why bother placing faith in them when the real decisions are taken in Brussels or Berlin, and few seem ready to stand up for ordinary families’ rights?

But the great Dublin Lockout of 1913 reminds us that organised labour can cut through the pessimism, build cross border solidarity and offer the promise of a better future.

The genius of both Larkin and Connolly was not just in organising workers, but in politicising and mobilising them.

They convinced working people in their hundreds of thousands that organisation in its broadest sense – both industrial and political – was the route to a better life.

And that organisation will always be the best chance workers have of receiving a fair share of power and the wealth we create.

Big Jim Larkin knew there would always be setbacks along the way. But he didn’t throw in the towel because one battle was lost.

The great convulsions that began in Dublin in the summer of 1913 took a long time to bear fruit.

Larkin knew that solidarity was the difference between subjugation and liberation – an insight that helped drive the emergence of a vibrant labour movement here in Ireland.

However, arguably the most important lesson from the Dublin Lockout a century ago is that unions need to be at the heart of a popular social movement – something the Lockout leaders knew instinctively.

It’s an approach that needs reimagining for a new century.

We cannot afford to retreat into our comfort zone of committees, composite motions and conferences.

Instead we must rediscover that ‘divine mission of discontent.’

After all, work unites us all, from the high-tech professional to the factory worker, and the Deliveroo driver to the hard-pressed home care worker.

Unions can bind new communities together, both real and virtual, to build a new movement that promotes our enduring values of equality, dignity and justice.

These are profoundly tough times for working people everywhere. We are up against a system of global capitalism that fails the great majority and favours the rich few, that is not only attacking our living standards but is also destroying our planet.

But from Dublin to Delhi, ordinary women and men can demand something better, something different, a global economy that genuinely puts people before profits.

If we build a new broad popular movement and pull together for a common cause, then we can lay the foundations for a union renaissance.

A century ago, working people in Dublin sacrificed everything for what they believed in – the right to work, the right to a decent standard of living, and the right to be in a union.

Building that same spirit of hope, optimism and gritty determination is within our grasp today. And then the modern day William Murphy’s will be quaking in their boots.

11/08/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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Sunday Read: Liberty Hall’s courageous caretaker

“YOU are quite at liberty…” With these words, caretaker Peter Ennis greeted the early morning raiding party at Liberty Hall on Friday 22nd August 1919.

September 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of Wicklow-born Ennis’ resulting court martial.

On the Wednesday prior to the raid, Christopher Quigley, a news vendor, had induced Private S Morrison, of the 3rd Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment, to procure a rifle for sale. A deal was struck for £2 and the rifle was passed through a window at the Hall. Quigley’s and Morrison’s subsequent arrests led to the raid.

A detailed account of the 4am raid and Ennis’ trial is documented in the British National Archives at Kew.

Having greeted the raiding party with the words, “You are quite at liberty”, Ennis continued his good humoured banter by asking, “Are you going to pay me overtime for this, sir?” The search uncovered firearms and Ennis, as the only resident, was arrested.

He was registered as prisoner 499 at Mountjoy Prison, where he was also listed as a ‘hunger striker’. An approval by the Chief Secretary of Ireland allowed Ennis to sign union papers while at Mountjoy.

Ennis’ court martial took place on 24th September 1919. He was successfully defended by the eminent republican barrister Patrick Lynch KC, who would later serve as Attorney General. Ennis co-accused Quigley, on the other hand, was sentenced to a year in prison.

In what seemingly was a reprisal for his acquittal, late one evening the Black and Tans ‘lifted’ Ennis from the Hall, brought him to the Custom House railings and beat him mercilessly on the head with revolvers.

Years later, Ennis’ obituary stated that he had “given himself up for dead” at the time. Suffering terribly, he dragged himself back over the cobbles at Beresford Place to the Hall and was able to close the door. According to the obituary, he then “swooned from loss of blood and lay almost unconscious until discovered the next morning”.

His obituary recalled that this was one of “many occasions” that Ennis had “exciting and almost fatal encounters with the armed forces of Dublin Castle”. During the Easter Rising, and under James Connolly’s orders to leave “as the union needed him”, he had staged a dramatic escape from the GPO under machine gun fire to return to Liberty Hall.

As a resident at Liberty Hall during the War of Independence, he found himself at the centre of several incursions into the building by Crown Forces. Ennis was often alone during these raids and his apartment was frequently ransacked.

On one occasion he saved Liberty Hall from certain destruction when men in ‘plain clothes’ broke in and poured petrol over the woodwork. Another time, Ennis and William O’Brien were bringing “documents” out when they were confronted by “as murderous a gang of Tans that ever shot a civilian”.

Ennis later remarked that “only for the old bolshie, I was gone that time”.

Ennis is remembered as a trade union activist and a prominent socialist.

He joined the newly-formed Socialist Party of Ireland (SPI) in April 1904 and would remain a staunch member, serving on committees, presiding at meetings and speaking on public platforms, before taking a central role in James Connolly’s Independent Labour Party of Ireland (ILP) from 1912 to 1914.

He was a trade unionist with the National Union of Dock Labourers before becoming a founding member of Irish Transport and General Workers Union in January 1909.

Ennis co-signed the first Rules of the ITGWU. At Liberty Hall, he served three giants of Irish labour history – Jim Larkin, James Connolly and William O’Brien.

Sadly, his wife Mary Kate who shared his life at the Hall died on 15th April 1914, aged only 31. Peter Ennis died on the 2nd January 1927, aged 51.

Rosie Hackett cared for him in his failing health. More than 3,000 mourners attended his removal, described by the Irish Independent as “an exceptionally large cortege”.

A plaque honouring Peter Ennis was erected in 1927 in Liberty Hall and can be seen today in the Irish Labour History Society Museum.

06/08/2019 Comments are off Patrick Cole
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Labour Court recommends increases in pay for health support staff

SIPTU representatives have today (Tuesday 7th August) confirmed that the Labour Court has recommended increases in pay for over 7,000 SIPTU members working in support grades across the health service.

The court issued two recommendations aimed at resolving the dispute involving support grade staff and chefs in the health service.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said: “The Labour Court has recommended that members receive significant increases in pay in from 1st September 2019.

If accepted, SIPTU members evaluated under phase 1 and phase 2 of the support staff job evaluation scheme will receive increases in pay ranging from around 6% to 13%. These payments are in addition to the 1.75% increase in pay due in September 2019 under the terms of the Public Service Stability Agreement. The Labour Court also recommends a pathway for members who have yet to have their jobs evaluated with specific cut off days for completion and under the existing formula.

“In a separate Labour Court recommendation, our chef members have also taken a significant step closer to securing pay justice with the Labour Court recommending that a 12 week proactive process, under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission, is undertaken by the union and the Health Service Executive. This engagement will seek to build on the work already undertaken in order to assess and evaluate the pay issues particular to chefs and head chefs in the health service.”

He added: “Union representatives will continue to assess the detail of the recommendations. The final decision is in the hands of our membership, who will be balloted on the terms of the recommendation. Balloting will commence Monday, 12th August and conclude on Wednesday, 18th September and we will be issuing further communications and literature in the coming days.”