07/07/2017 Comments are off SIPTUhealth

Three steps to full pay restoration

The Public Service Stability Agreement which you are now being asked to consider arose from determined efforts to secure an accelerated clear path to full pay restoration and to win commitments on job security for our members in the health service.

The agreement, endorsed by SIPTU National Executive Council, provides increases in pay for many and puts money back in the pockets of the lowest paid health workers providing essential frontline health services. The agreement also provides job security with no compulsory redundancies and maintains a strong defence against the threat of privatisation.

  1. The first step secures an increase in pay between 7% and 9% over the course of the agreement from January 2018. One full year ahead of schedule.
  2. The second step allows for non-pensionable pay to be totally exempt from the Pension Related Deduction (PRD) for example: overtime, premiums and allowances.
  3. The third step increases the threshold for the deduction of PRD on pensionable pay from €28,750 to €34,500. This will leave many SIPTU members in support grades completely exempt from PRD.

These three steps combined complete our journey out of FEMPI and puts more pay back in your pocket.

Ballots opened in workplaces around the country last Monday (3rd July) and members have until Wednesday 9th August to have a say and cast a vote.


Please get in touch with your local organiser or shop steward to make sure you cast your vote or email ask@siptuhealth.ie to get more details.

Download documents and leaflets

Click here to download all of the information on Support Grades

Click here to download all of the information on Nurses and Midwives and Allied Health Professionals

Click here to download all of the information on Ambulance Workers

Click here to download all of the information on Home Helps

Additional downloads

Click here to download all of the information on Interns

Click here to download all of the information on Chefs

25/06/2017 Comments are off SIPTUhealth

Sunday Read – Path to new entrants equity

Last Thursday (22nd, June), the National Executive Council (NEC) of SIPTU decided to recommend the Public Service Stability Agreement for acceptance.

The NEC said on balance, as the benefits, such as the protections against outsourcing in particular, as well as other positive elements, outweigh the potential for what might be gained by running the risk of rejection.

The NEC also highlighted Clause 4.1.3. of the agreement which envisages a process to satisfactorily resolve the issue of pay for new entrants and we will insist on its full implementation.

If accepted, and unions work together, the proposed new Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA) can deliver equality on the issue of the time it takes public servants to ascend their pay scales.

As it stands, it takes staff who started work in January 2011 or after – the so-called ‘new entrants’ – two additional years before reaching their final scale point.

In the recent pay negotiations, unions sought and achieved a 12-month process to address the length of the scales. This is shorthand for dealing with the outstanding ‘new entrant’ issue in most public service grades.

The process can result in the removal of two incremental points from each pay scale, which would mean faster progress up the scale and an equal scale-length for staff who joined the public service before and after 2011.

The negotiation will likely focus on which increments should be removed – a challenge complicated by the fact that the length of pay scales varies widely across public service grades. For example, a civil service cleaner has a five-point scale plus two long service increments, while a teacher takes 27 years to reach their maximum scale point.

The attractive option of simply removing the first two pay points has been ruled out by a Government that says it’s not prepared to change entry salaries because, by and large, it has no problem recruiting staff at current rates. In any case, removing the first two points would not help staff who started work after 2016.

The loose language around the issue – in the media and elsewhere – has created a good deal of confusion about the nature of the problem that new entrants still face. Specifically, the ‘dual’ or ‘two-tier’ pay scales we frequently hear about were negotiated away by unions in 2013.

Completely different new entrant pay-scales had been introduced by diktat – without any negotiations, let alone agreement – in 2010. These scales, which for three years ran parallel to those in place for pre-2011 staff, were 90% lower at every point. In other words, the then-Government’s intention was that new staff would be paid 10% less than their older colleagues. Permanently.

This was opposed by unions at the time. But, because there was virtually no recruitment going on during this period (indeed, public service numbers were falling by 10%) very few workers were initially hit and the issue probably got less attention than it warranted.

That said, this was the height of the crisis. The Troika was in town and many economists, commentators and politicians were demanding compulsory redundancies, more across-the-board pay reductions on top of the 14% average cuts already imposed, and widespread privatisation. These threats to all public servants – old and new – understandably had to take priority.

Nevertheless, unions returned to the new entrant issue at the first practical opportunity. In 2013, we prioritised it in talks on what became the Haddington Road Agreement and secured a merger of the new and pre-existing pay scales. The effect of this improvement was to place new entrants on the pre-2011 rates, albeit with two additional incremental points at the start of the scales.

On the plus side, new entrants now ascended the same pay scales as everyone else. On the downside, it took them two years longer to get to the top.

The process agreed in the proposed new pay agreement is capable of dealing with the simpler challenge of removing two points from salary scales to boost new entrants’ incomes and ensure equality in the time it takes to reach the top.For the first

For the first time, the proposed Public Service Stability Agreement sees management acknowledge union concerns over the length of new entrant scales. And, if the agreement is accepted, unions that abide by the deal have a process to address the iniquity – and then implement a solution.

You can read the text of the Agreement and an FAQ here.

A case of old wine in new bottles aboard Ship Leo

The election of Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach and his appointment of three new ministers to the Cabinet is a case of old wine served in new bottles. It will not change the thrust of Fine Gael policies on the economy or the way in which it treats working people when it comes to income inequality the increasing trend towards precarious and low paid work or the inadequate provision of public services.

The appalling housing crisis leaving almost 100,000 thousand people on local authority waiting lists and the two tier health service which has over 400,000 awaiting hospital treatment will not be improved by the shifting ofdeck chairss on board Ship Leo.

It is likely that a general election will take place next year when Fianna Fáil decides that it has a chance to be returned as the largest party but, for now, it will happily hold its position as main opposition party while exercising its influence over Government action.

In the meantime, the spectre of Brexit looms over the future of hundreds of thousands of workers across the island while the volatile behaviour of US president Donal Trump further threatens global economic and political instability.

The performance of Jeremy Corbyn and a resurgent Labour Party in Britain and the defeat of Le Pen in France have been welcome developments in recent weeks and perhaps just might concentrate the minds of progressive people and parties about the possibilities of a left alternative to the traditional dominance of two right wing parties in this state.

*This Liberty View appeared in the latest Liberty Online. To view and subscribe click here

04/06/2017 Comments are off SIPTUhealth

Sunday Read: Last Chance for a Social Europe? New Social Pillar Proposals Unveiled.

The Pillar of social rights has been a flagship project of the Juncker Commission and has been almost a year in the making. It was launched in Brussels on April 26, last. The documentation released by the Commission on the Pillar runs to 300 pages.

This blog attempts to provide a brief guide to the key points of the Pillar.

What is Contained in the Pillar Proposals?

There are three chapters: Equal Opportunities & Access to the Labour Market, Fair Working Conditions, Social Protection & Inclusion. These chapters contain 20 principles which will be brought into operation by:

An interpretive document of the working time directive

One draft directive

Two social partner consultations and

A declaration.

The Pillar is described by its advocates as a compass — or an orientation which will guide European Social Policy in the future. It attempts to restate the value of social Europe articulated by the Delors presidency of the nineties. Time will tell whether this is the case. The declaration and the stated working document are identical.

The Pillar was presented under two legal forms: as a Commission Recommendation, effective immediately,  as a Proposal for a joint proclamation by the Parliament, the Council and the Commission. The Commission will enter into discussions with the Parliament and the Council to work towards broad political support and high-level endorsement of the Pillar. These legal forms take account of the absence of union powers to adopt binding legislation in certain areas covered by the Pillar.

The use of a joint proclamation is modelled upon the precedent of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The text which is proposed is identical to the recommendation mentioned above, but it could be amended in light of the discussion with the Council and the Parliament.

Any attempt by a future Commission to transform the declaration into hard law would probably require treaty change. The document notes that “the implementation of the pillar will be primarily a matter for national governments, for public authorities and for social partners at all levels.”

The Commission has also produced a 78-page interpretive document of ECJ decisions on the Working Time Directive. It is uncertain as to what status this document has as the Court interprets its own decisions. It is too early to analyse this document.

The two issues which are being opened for social partner consultation are social protection systems and the revision of the written statement directive.

According to the Commission “the Pillar is designed as a compass for a renewed process of upward convergence towards better working and living conditions in Europe. It is primarily conceived for the euro area but applicable to all EU Member States wishing to be part of it.”

The initial implementation proposals involve:

One proposed directive — on parental leave and two social partner consultations on issues broadly related to so called platform work and a growing variety of non-standard contracts.

A revision of the Written Statement Directive (91/533/EEC) is proposed.

This directive gives employees starting a new job the right to be noti ed in writing of the essential aspects of their employment relationship.

The other consultation is on access to social protection, to de ne possible new rules in this area.

Luca Visentini, ETUC General Secretary

The proposal on parental leave includes a new right for fathers to take at least 10 working days o around the birth of a child. It also envisages that the existing right to four months’ leave can be taken for children up to 12 years of age, compared to just a non-binding guideline on the age of 8 years today. Parental leave also becomes an individual right for mothers and fathers without a transfer of the four months to the other parent, a strong incentive for take up by fathers.

For the first time, carer’s leave of five days per year will be introduced, in the case of sickness of a direct relative. All of these family-related leave arrangements will be compensated at least at the level of sick pay.

The proposal will also give parents of children up to 12 years old and carers the right to request flexible working arrangements, like reduced or flexible working hours or flexibility on the place of work. At the moment this only applies to women returning from maternity leave.

The ETUC also appreciated that the Commission is considering the need for better enforcement of existing European social legislation and rights.

The ETUC expressed concern about the proposed interpretive document on the Working Time Directive, which could lead to the wrong implementation of some Court cases. The ETUC undertook “to mobilise against those who want to strangle this initiative at birth.”

Workers’ Group of the European Economic & Social Committee

The Committee stated that there was “an urgent need to close the social deficit by correcting the imbalance in social and economic policy and repairing the damage done to social Europe after so many years of austerity.” The group undertook to analyse the Commission’s proposals, to assess how these measure up to civil society’s expectations and to the objectives set out in the EESC position on the Rights.

The group stressed that the EU needed to provide a positive project for workers, which also addresses the challenges of the 21st century.

The Workers’ Group called fair working conditions for all, a framework directive for minimum income, social security protection for all, respect for collective bargaining and trade union rights, and a common EU approach to minimum wages.

The group warned that if the EU failed to deliver, we will have to live with the consequences: increased nationalism, protectionism and xenophobia.

Reaction from Unions & EU Bodies


In an initial response, the ETUC stated that the Pillar of Social Rights allowed the EU to show that it cares about its citizens. It welcomed the fact that the pillar is open to the whole EU and not just the Eurozone.

The statement continued: “The pillar includes proposals which are long overdue. The principles are largely positive, with some exception, but we expect the Commission to go further and start a real process of upward convergence”.

The ETUC backed draft legislation for paid parental, paternity and carers’ leave and welcomed the Commission’s commitment to stand by its intention to deliver despite the opposition of some employers.

While highly sceptical of the promotion of self-employment as a panacea for unemployment, the ETUC supported proposals for standards to cover self-employed and non-standard workers, and undertook to engage constructively in the consultation on the revision of the Written Statement Directive and Access to Social Protection for All.

The ETUC also appreciated that the Commission is considering the need for better enforcement of existing European social legislation and rights.

The ETUC expressed concern about the proposed interpretive document on the Working Time Directive, which could lead to the wrong implementation of some Court cases. The ETUC undertook “to mobilise against those who want to strangle this initiative at birth.”

Global Unions Federations

The response from the Global Unions Federations was broadly similar to that of the ETUC. IndustriALL stated that “although it contained many principles it only contains one tangible legislative proposal on paid parental, paternity and careers’ leave… the European Pillar of Social Rights still needs to deliver its promises if Europe is to get a ‘triple-A’ rating on social issues. IndustriAll Europe will undertake a detailed analysis of the package.”


With respect to public services and public service workers, the EPSU stated that the Pillar proposals represented a small step in the right direction, welcoming the plans for more and paid parental, paternity and care leave.

However, the EPSU considered that the proposals did not meet fully workers’ expectations with no measures to strengthen collective bargaining.

The EPSU expressed disappointment that the Commission did not come with more concrete proposals to deal with the increase in low paid and precarious jobs. EPSU noted that “many Member States and employers are already seeking to block these small steps forward. They are kicking and screaming to prevent any substantial improvements in working conditions of EU workers. EPSU will continue to work with the ETUC to fight these attempts to halt change. We are determined to seek improvements and more concrete action and initiatives.”


Uni Europa sees the glass as being half empty, condemning the Commission for failing to propose concrete solutions to the real problems faced by workers, noting that it “has published a complicated maze of seventeen documents that, with the exception of the promise to legislate on Parental Leave, does not amount to anything like the type of solutions needed.”

The statement continued that the pillar “must include a real and comprehensive EU social action programme.”

You can download the Global Forum News here

07/05/2017 Comments are off SIPTUhealth

Taking care of the care assistants

The SIPTU Care Sector is one of the newest in the trade union. Formally launched in March 2016, it was established to organise Healthcare Assistants (HCA), a grade of staff which the union had a crucial role in creating.

Liberty met with the members of the SIPTU Care Sector Committee in late April during one of their quarterly meetings in Liberty Hall. Helen Tierney, a HCA in Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar, outlined how the HCA role came into being.

“I came into the hospital as an orderly. However, as I was working directly with patients when the FETAC Level 5 Healthcare Assistant course was rolled out, I enrolled.

“Prior to that we did have HCAs in the hospital, some had trained in the US and some in the UK but it was only with the start of the FETAC Level 5 course that we started getting qualified in Ireland.”

The FETAC Level 5 Healthcare Assistant course was created with the direct involvement of SIPTU, when in the mid 2000’s the union worked with the HSE to assist its health staff members to upskill. The course sought to train hospital support staff to fulfill hands-on patient care roles. In many cases the workers were al- ready carrying out such duties with- out formal qualifications.

Justina Munitich, a Maternity HCA in Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, said: “I started in the hospital 19 years ago with no experience. I became a maternity HCA 13 years ago. We would not have had any education without SIPTU. We were doing the job already but the FETAC 5 course explained why we were doing it.”

Similarly, Moira Daly, a HCA in St Finbarr’s Hospital in Cork, took the FETAC course in 2005. “Until then there were no HCAs, we were known as auxiliary staff. We did the same work as a HCA does now, direct patient care. All auxiliaries have been trained up now in St Finbarr’s so there are just HCAs and multi-task attendants.”

Committee members talk of the “Healthcare Assistant family” to cover the wide variety of roles included within the grade, from acute services, maternity, palliative care, mental health services, care of the elderly and other disability services.

The HCA position became essential throughout the health service as nursing and other roles evolved over time.

As Cheryl Barrow-Hilliard, a palliative care HCA recalls, “My back- ground is in nursing in England. A HCA does a load of what I did as a nurse. However, the role of a nurse has changed. It is now less hands-on and because of regulation, paper- work and other tasks, we have taken on much of the hands-on work for patients.”

Ann O’Connell, a HCA in the Emergency Department of Cork University Hospital, agrees. “Nurses are doing roles that doctors would have once done, taking bloods, giving injections and other tasks.”

Despite the crucial role, the estimated 16,000 HCAs play in our health services, they still do not have the recognition or respect they believe their role deserves. This has led to the SIPTU Care Sector adopting a five-point agenda.

Sector Organiser, Marie Butler, summarises their agenda as having twin objectives, including the development of the grade through “registration/recognition of the role, a national job description; an appropriate workplace uniform; ongoing education training development and progression”, while the other is “to improve pay and working conditions through nationally negotiated pay agreements”.

“We have also campaigned to ensure that permanency and incremental credit is secured for those employed under the HSE intern scheme,” she added.

With a HSE national review of healthcare assistants expected to re- port shortly and a national HCA forum already established, the committee expects major advances on their agenda in the near future.

Pauline McDonagh, who has been a HCA in the Mayo Mental Health Sector for the past five years, believes progress on the five-point agenda will make HCAs visible. “Currently people only think of doctors and nurses but we deserve to be recognised as qualified professionals as well.”

With recognition should come a National HCA uniform throughout the health service, although what colour it should be is yet to be decided. As Michelle Corbally, a HCA in Tallaght Hospital since 2006, points out, this is not about vanity but ensuring that the HCA is easily identifiable in the various health settings and assists in improving the patient experience within the health service.

“It’s not because we want a uniform to go with the colour of our eyes. It defines who you are”, she said.

23/04/2017 Comments are off SIPTUhealth

European Pillar of Social Rights…Europe’s last chance?

The European Pillar of Social Rights has been top of the agenda for anyone working on EU social policy and labour matters for the past 18 months but aside from coverage in Liberty, it has received scant commentary in Ireland.

The Pillar was first announced in September 2015 as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s flagship initiative in the social field. In March 2016, the Commission presented a preliminary outline of the Pillar and a compilation of EU social rights that currently apply in all member states. The Commission said that the Pillar was intended to set out a “framework of principles” and offer a “policy compass for fair and dynamic labour markets… and for well-functioning and sustainable labour markets.”

It is clear that this initiative should be primarily seen against the backdrop of the debate about the future of the euro. A 2015 report by Juncker and the heads of the other main European institutions (the ‘Five Presidents Report’) said that employment and social issues had to feature significantly higher in European economic policy coordination if the single currency is not just to prosper but survive.

Such a limited ‘economic’ rationale for the Pillar would be insufficient to meet the social challenges now facing Europe after years of austerity and would as a result only give rise to further disillusionment with Europe. However, two major milestones in the campaign to promote a more ‘social’ Pillar were reached in January, in the European Parliament (EP) and in the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).

First, centre-left political groups in the EP, led by the Socialists and Democrat rapporteur, Maria João Rodrigues, worked closely with trade unions and civil society organisations to draw up and win cross-party support for a progressive response to the Commission’s 2016 preliminary outline.

This report was adopted on 19th January last by 396 votes to 180 with 66 abstentions, with the support of the Socialists & Democrats, the European United Left, the Greens and many European People’s Party and Liberals MEPs. The only groups to vote against were the Conservatives and the ‘Europe of Nations and Freedom’ (i.e. the group based around the French National Front).

Last minute attempts by some centre-right MEPs to delete or dilute a number of recommendations were in the main defeated. While the centre-left did have to compromise in some areas, the final report is a good roadmap towards a more social Europe. Key recommendations include:

• A Framework Directive on decent working conditions that ensures a core set of enforceable rights, including collective bargaining rights for every worker regardless of their employment relationship and that specifically guarantees decent working conditions for internships, traineeships and apprenticeships as well as bans zero-hour contracts.

• That anyone who is engaged through online platforms (either employed directly or as a genuinely self-employed worker) has “analogous rights as in the rest of the economy”; the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) hailed this as a “significant breakthrough”.

• The Commission to “actively support” the “wider coverage” of collective agreements and wage floors in the form of a national minimum wage in all countries. (The centre-right groups did manage to delete a recommendation that national minimum wages should “gradually attain if possible” at least 60% of national median wages and should not be below the living wage; this was despite the fact most centre-right MEPs voted for a similar call last September).

• A Social Protocol to be included in the next revision of the treaties so as to strengthen fundamental social rights vis-à-vis the ‘four freedoms’ currently guaranteed by the treaties (i.e. free movement of workers, goods, capital, the right to establish and freedom to provide services). This particular call, a core aim of unions, was only just adopted — 317 in favour, 315 against, and 33 abstentions.

• A Child Guarantee giving every child living at risk of poverty access to free healthcare, childcare and education, decent housing and proper nutrition, and an appropriate level of social investments, particularly in childcare and education.

• New legislation on maternity leave, paternity leave, parental leave, carers’ leave, access to quality care services and flexible working time arrangements to better reconcile work-life balance.

The EP’s report concludes that the Pillar should be adopted as an agreement between the main EU institutions, with the involvement of unions, employers and civil society at the highest level, and should contain “a clear roadmap for implementation”.

Many of the recommendations were also contained in the opinion of the EESC adopted on 25th January. For example, the opinion stated that the Pillar should apply in all countries, that collective bar gaining should be promoted at all levels, and that the ‘sharing economy’ and other new forms of employment should not be used to avoid decent wages.

The Commission is now expected to come forward with its proposals for the Pillar in March, at the same time as it issues a White Paper on the future of Europe, including the euro. The EP’s and the EESC’s reports aren’t binding but they do send a clear political signal that if Europe doesn’t reconnect with the public, particularly working people and unemployed people, and fails to tackle not just popular disillusionment but popular resentment towards the EU, the whole European project itself is at risk of disintegrating.

As the General-Secretary of the ETUC, Luca Visentini, said at a 23rd January conference on the Pillar: “The EU is in the last chance saloon to tackle working people’s anger towards the EU.”

It does seem to be the case that some EU leaders, including Jean Claude Juncker, do understand the dangers. At the close of the 23rd January conference he said: “We won’t be able to make a success of Europe if we can’t make a success of the Pillar — this is our last chance.” But it is equally the case that many others do not or, more ominously, are quite willing to risk a break-up.

How the Commission and national governments take the European Pillar of Social Rights forward will play a large part in determining the future (or not) of Europe over the coming years.

The men who printed the Proclamation

The men who printed the Proclamation — the printer or pressman Christopher Brady, and compositors Liam O’Brien and Michael Molloy — were ITGWU employees producing The Workers’ Republic and workaday union print jobs.

All were members of the Dublin Typographical Provident Society (DTPS), later the Irish Graphical Society/Irish Print Union, now the SIPTU Irish Print Group. In early 1915 Connolly acquired the Double Crown Wharfedale printing press.

So dilapidated was it — and short of type, despite Andy ‘Dazzler’ Mulligan fetching some from West’s printers — the Proclamation could be printed only one half at a time, and several typefaces had to be used. Connolly gave them the option of not being involved as they worked overnight on Easter Sunday, under ICA guard commanded by Lt William Partridge, an ITGWU organiser.

They chose to carry out the task, fully aware of its historic significance. 

When printed, the Proclamation was “parcelled up and delivered to Miss Helena Molony”, ICA member and Secretary of the Irish Women Workers’ Union, then effectively part of the ITGWU. The three printers went on to fight in Easter Week: Brady with the ICA in City Hall; Molloy and O’Brien with the Volunteers in Jacob’s and St Stephen’s Green.

In 1934, ICA veteran Nellie Gifford recalled: How faithfully those three men had fulfilled their trust. They took the risk of setting up and printing what others who only posted up paid for with their lives.

Having done the task assigned them, they returned to the quiet, unspectacular work of earning their living.

Their courage and their patriotism is, however, now part of our history, for they had a special part in ushering in the Irish Republic.

It is hoped that when every school student learns of the Proclamation, they will hear the names Brady, Molloy and O’Brien — even Joe Newman who assisted them and Dazzler Mulligan — and of course Liberty Hall and the ITGWU.

Brady went on to work for the Bank of Ireland, Molloy in the Freeman’s Journal and O’Brien in O’Reilly’s. The DTPS, on a motion of the Irish Independent Chapel, honoured them with a presentation dinner in the Ormond Hotel on 8th December, 1916.

At Easter 1916, the men who printed the Proclamation should be recalled as workers — no Proclamation would have been possible without their ingenuity and inventive skill; as courageous soldiers, for they acted effectively as such both during the printing and in the weeks and years that followed; and as employees of the union.

For Brady certainly, the Ireland he fought for was the workers’ republic, and that is evident in those elements of the Proclamation that vested Ireland in the hands of its people and spoke of equality — concepts and phrases expressed in the Constitution and in the ambition of Connolly and the ICA.

When the Proclamation is draped from Liberty Hall as part of the 1916 tapestry, it should be remembered it was first printed by union members employed by the ITGWU.

Outlook for the Irish Economy: Trends, Projections and Storm Clouds

In recent years Ireland’s headline national accounts have become increasingly distorted by multinational activity.

Indeed the distortion is now so pronounced that it has become difficult to interpret Ireland’s economic performance at all. Even so, it is clear that the real economy has been growing strongly despite Brexit related headwinds and the fall in the value of Sterling. Year-on-year personal consumption grew by 3% in real terms in 2016 while investment in dwellings and building and construction grew strongly with construction sector output up 11.4% in real terms in 2016.

Agricultural activity also grew strongly at 6.4%. Activity indicators such as retail sales have been performing well.

Recent labour force data has been very positive. Net employment grew by a robust 2.9% in 2016 with end-year total employment reaching 2,048,100. Even so, employment is still over 100,000 below its 2007 level. Unemployment and long-term unemployment are on steady downwards trajectories. The fourth quarter seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell year-on-year from 9.1% in 2015 to 7.1% in 2016 and then fell again to 6.6% in February.

There is significant regional variation with unemployment highest in the South-East of the country.

Average weekly earnings grew by 0.6% year-on-year in the fourth quarter with private sector earnings up by 1.4%. Average hourly earnings grew 1.1% in the same period with private sector hourly earnings increasing by 1.9% and public sector earnings declining by 0.2%.

Hourly earnings increased in 10 of the 14 principal economic sectors. Real wages are benefiting from the general lack of inflation in the economy. The CPI inflation index was flat in 2016.

Ireland’s ‘deprivation rate’ declined from 29% of individuals in 2014 to 25.5% in 2015 but deprivation remains well in excess of pre-crisis levels (it was 13.7% in 2008).

Similarly, the ‘at risk of poverty’ rate declined from 17.2% in 2014 to 16.9% in 2015 but is still above pre-crisis levels (14.4% in 2008). Household debt fell to €145.3 billion or 144.8% of disposable income in third quarter 2016. However, the Republic is the 4th most indebted country in the EU by this measure. Household net worth increased 3.9% in the third quarter driven by a rise in housing assets. Residential property prices were up 7.9% in the year to January with prices outside of Dublin increasing 11.3%.


According to NERI, the current projection for the economy is very positive, albeit there are a number of storm clouds on the horizon. We expect the size of the economy measured as GDP to increase by 3.8% in real terms in 2017 before slowing to 3.0% growth in 2018.

Domestic demand will drive the bulk of this growth. Personal consumption should grow strongly on the back of very robust employment growth, increasing wage and income levels, and continued improvements in household wealth and debt dynamics. There is also significant scope for catch-up growth in underlying investment given the persistently low levels of investment in recent years and the expected increase in housing output.

The outlook for trade is uncertain given the volatile policy environment and the outsize impact of a small number of multinationals. Brexit effects could manifest as weaker foreign demand while changes to US policy could affect the scale and type of economic activity undertaken by US multinationals in Ireland.

Total employment should continue to grow strongly for at least the remainder of 2017. We project unemployment will fall to 5.8% by the middle of 2018. Growth in average hourly earnings should accelerate in response to the tightening labour market.

Storm Clouds

There are always major uncertainties inherent to our projection. For example, recent political developments in the US and the UK have added to the uncertainty surrounding economic policy and prospects in these countries. Upcoming elections in a number of European countries have the potential to produce similar shocks.

The impact of a Trump presidency on Ireland is difficult to assess. Fiscal stimulus will boost growth in the US as well as demand for imports. However, tightening US monetary policy should dampen demand. In addition, a move towards protectionism and/or a significant change in corporation tax policy both represent significant downside risks to the Irish economy.

Brexit will exert a negative effect on the economy. However, the scale of this effect is impossible to quantify as it is a historical event without clear precedent. In any event, we expect the bulk of the negative impact on Ireland to manifest in 2019 and 2020 reflecting the worsened trade relationship. In the interim, we anticipate that some investment decisions will be delayed. A further weakening of Sterling would damage Irish exports and negatively impact on retail sales in the Border counties. Sterling is likely to weaken if the probability of a hard or contentious Brexit is seen to increase. At any rate, the fluctuations in the Brexit process should manifest as increased exchange rate volatility.

A tightening of euro area monetary policy would reduce internal and external demand and could be particularly problematic for the Irish economy given the still-high private and public debt overhangs. Monetary tightening seems unlikely in the short-term despite the improving outlook for the euro area economy.

Finally, Ireland is an energy importer and a faster than expected rebound in energy prices would negatively impact on corporate balance sheets and investment as well as on real household disposable incomes and personal consumption.

The outlook is good for now but storms are on the way.

Bus Éireann strike: What you need to know

SIPTU members in Bus Éireann began an indefinite all out-strike action and placed pickets on bus stations across the country on Friday 24th March at 12.01 a.m.

Today (Sunday, 26th March) is our members third day of action and they need your support.

They will maintain their strike action until management agrees to engage in serious talks concerning the public transport system.

The workers are deeply concerned about the inconvenience being endured by the travelling public and other SIPTU members due to the strike action but they believe they have no other option.

What SIPTU members in Bus Éireann want:

1) Fair pay and working conditions

Bus Éireann is a company with a history of paying workers enough money to support their families. This is a good thing.

Management is demanding that the company competes with private bus operators to provide services on routes. Many of the employees of these private bus companies depend on state welfare payments to survive.

Our members are more than willing to compete with private companies in terms of the standard and level of service provided. However, they will not get involved in a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of pay and conditions of employment.

The solution — A Sectoral Employment Order (SEO) for bus workers. Such an order under the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 would protect bus drivers’ terms and conditions of employment in both the public and private sectors. It would mean that any competition between Bus Éireann and private operators would be based on the quality and efficiency of the service provided and not on driving down workers’ pay and conditions.

2) To provide a good public service

Bus Éireann has provided an effective bus service connecting communities throughout rural Ireland and between all urban centres for over 60 years.
It is mandated by the National Transport Agency to provide services on Public Service Obligation (PSO) routes — these are routes that are not profitable commercially but are socially important as they connect rural communities together.

The Government is believed to be intent on allowing such private operators to tender for all PSO routes in 2019 and if they are successful they will receive state funding to provide the services.

Bus Éireann provides transport to hundreds of thousands of Travel Pass Scheme participants free of charge on a daily basis. This is a crucial service for vulnerable groups and the elderly in our society.

The solution: State funding (known as a subvention) for Bus Éireann was cut by 35% between 2009 and 2015 (from €50 million to €33.7 million). This funding must be increased so that Bus Éireann can continue to provide essential public transport services.

3) Talks about agreed change at the company

The current strike action is in response to a management attempt to force through changes to workers’ terms and conditions of employment without any agreement from Bus Éireann workers.

The changes, which management stated it intended to immediately implement in a letter to workers on 22nd March, would have resulted in a loss of earnings of up 30% for many Bus Éireann workers.
If management had been allowed to force through such massive cuts it would have set a precedence for similar imposed changes in other semi-state companies.

The solution: An immediate return to meaningful and genuine talks. SIPTU representatives want to engage in meaningful negotiations concerning far-reaching change and improvements in the public bus network. In order for these talks to be effective there must be direct input from the National Transport Authority and the Department of Transport as well as management and workers’ representatives. The best place for these talks to take place is either at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) or another body capable of overseeing an agreement on a just and fair solution to this dispute.

SIPTU members in Bus Éireann want a solution to the current dispute and to return to work as soon as possible.