SIPTU National Executive Council Statement On The WRC Proposals On The Review Of ‘Building Momentum’ Public Service Agreement
The National Executive Council (NEC) of SIPTU met on Monday, 5th September 2022, to consider the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) proposals on the review of the pay provisions of the Public Service Agreement, Building Momentum.
SIPTU, along with colleague trade unions in the Public Services Committee of the ICTU, invoked the review clause of the Agreement arising from the cost of living and inflation crisis.
The NEC, having considered the details of the proposals, decided that they should be put to a ballot of SIPTU members in the Public Service and Section 38 Agencies with a recommendation for acceptance.
The WRC proposals issued in respect of the Review, when taken with the existing measures of Building Momentum, are structured in a manner that is consistent with previous public service agreements which prioritised the position of lower and middle-income earners.
The NEC also noted the position of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform that economy-wide cost of living measures would accompany pay improvements. These measures will be addressed in Budget 2023 and through the Labour Employer Economic Forum which is to meet in September 2022.
If these proposals are accepted, it will extend the current Public Service Agreement until the end of December 2023. Negotiations on a successor Agreement for 2024 and beyond will likely take place during the Summer of 2023.
Accordingly, the SIPTU National Executive Council recommends acceptance of these proposals in a secret ballot vote to be held over the period from Monday, 12th September to Wednesday 5th October, 2022.
The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) this morning (Tuesday) proposed a public service pay package aimed at resolving differences between public service unions and Government officials following over 19 hours of talks. The ICTU Public Services Committee (PSC) subsequently met to consider the proposal at 10.00am today.
The package would see pay increases of 3% with effect from 2nd February 2022, 2% from 1st March 2023 and 1.5% or €750 (whichever is the greater) from 1st October 2023. This is in addition to 1% or €500, whichever is greater, due at the beginning of October 2022.
The minimum payment of €750 a year from next October means the package would be worth 8% to a worker earning €25,000 a year and 7% to a person on €37,500 a year.
This morning’s PSC meeting decided that individual unions should now consult members, through ballots and other means, on the package in advance of a collective decision on whether to accept or reject the package. This will take place at a further PSC meeting on Friday 7th October, where voting will be weighted to reflect the number of public servants that each union represents.
PSC chairperson Kevin Callinan said he believed the outcome of this long process was the best that could currently be achieved through negotiations.
“We’ll now be explaining this package to union members, who will have the final say in ballots. Neither side has achieved all it sought, but this package is a significant improvement on the pay terms of Building Momentum, and it is worth more to those who need it most. This underlines the importance of the unions’ decision to invoke the review clause in the current agreement.
“Over the past weeks, Minister McGrath and his Government colleagues have repeatedly promised to supplement pay measures with other cost-of-living supports through the Labour-Employer Economic Forum (LEEF) process and the forthcoming Budget. Workers will now expect delivery on that promise. A Government failure to deliver will certainly impact the ballots that will shortly get underway,” he said.
PSC secretary John King said the PSC was also recommending that planned industrial action ballots be suspended while unions consult on the WRC package.
The pay talks resumed at noon yesterday (29th August) after a ten-week hiatus during which the Government said it was reflecting on its position. Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath said his revised offer was final, although union negotiators held out for an improved sum for lower paid public servants.
The total 2022-2023 increases due under the WRC-proposed package would be:
1) 2nd February 2022 3%
2) 1st October 2022 1% or €500 a year (whichever is the greater). Note, this was agreed under the original Building Momentum agreement
3) 1st March 2023 2%
4) 1st October 2023 1.5% or €750 (whichever is the greater).
These are in addition to Building Momentum increases of 1% or €500 a year (whichever is greater in October 2021, plus a sectoral bargaining fund worth 1% of annualised basic pay from 1st February 2022.
John King also said that the Union would holding a meeting of its National Executive Council as part of a process to commence consultations with members immediately, in advance of commencing a ballot vote for acceptance or rejection of the proposal’s.
SIPTU organisers in the public service representing members in the Health, Local Authority, Education and State sectors, are today commencing a consultation exercise with its members in advance of ballots for industrial action over pay later in August.
SIPTU Deputy General Secretary John King said: “Balloting for industrial action will begin on 29th August if there is no successful outcome to the talks on a review of the ‘Building Momentum’ agreement. The Workplace Relations Commission has invited the Public Service Committee of Congress to talks but the government side has said that it is not in a position to attend until the end of the month. While we have welcomed the invitation, we intend to continue the consultation process with our members and, in the absence of a set of proposals that can be put to our members, the ballots for industrial action will commence.”
The Public Services Committee of Congress invoked the provisions of the review clause in ‘Building Momentum’ on 11th March, 2022 when inflation was at 5.6% and when it was clear that the modest terms of the public service agreement, concluded in January 2021, were being completely eroded by the dramatic increase in the cost of living for workers. With inflation now running at 9.1%, union members are becoming increasingly frustrated at the Government’s failure to conclude an acceptable review of the pay terms of the Agreement.
SIPTU public service members to prepare for industrial action over Government failure to review Agreement
SIPTU members across the public service will commence a consultation exercise in advance of ballots for industrial action over the failure of the Government to conclude an acceptable review of the pay provisions of the ‘Building Momentum’ Public Service Agreement. The consultation will involve union members and activists in the health service, local government, education and the State sectors in the coming weeks.
SIPTU Deputy General Secretary, John King, said that by refusing to re-engage with the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to deal with escalation in the cost of living, the Government is in breach of the terms of the current Agreement.
John King said: “The Public Services Committee of Congress invoked the provisions of the review clause on the 11th March 2022 when inflation was at 5.6% and when it was clear that the modest terms of the Agreement, concluded in January 2021, were being completely eroded by the dramatic increase in the cost of living for workers. With inflation now running at 9.1%, the Government’s failure to re-engage at the WRC is no longer tenable.”
He added: “Talks at the WRC were deferred on 17th June when the Government side claimed it needed time to reflect. With the Dáil now in recess until early to mid-September, it is clear that it is not prepared to engage in meaningful discussions on the cost of living crisis. In these circumstances, we are now left with no alternative other than to ballot our members in order to protect their standard of living.”
SIPTU members employed as Covid test centre swabbers are calling on the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, to directly intervene to resolve their dispute with the HSE and the Department of Health concerning a review of pay rates for these essential workers.
SIPTU Sector Organiser, Damian Ginley, said: “This dispute centres on the failure of the HSE and Department of Health to honour clearly written commitments to have the Covid test centre swabber grade reviewed as part of a wider job evaluation scheme for health sector support workers.
“Our members are appalled and angered at the lack of respect being shown to swabbers. Covid test centre swabbers provide a key role in the test and trace approach adopted by this Government in response to the pandemic. When test centres were rolled out across all counties, swabbers took up temporary positions to support the Government in meeting the enormous demands faced on the service at the height of the pandemic.
“They met these demands in very challenging environments when there was enormous uncertainty as to the severity of the virus and very limited access to PPE. These workers put both themselves and their family members at risk to serve in the Government response to the pandemic.
“All our members are seeking is for the commitment to allow the swabber grade to be considered under the support staff job evaluation scheme to be honoured. They were available to partake in evaluations only to have their review appointments cancelled by the HSE.”
He added: “Despite numerous attempts to have this matter resolved our members were left with no alternative but to seek an urgent referral of the dispute to the Workplace Relations Commission. As the Government proposes to significantly scale back current Covid testing facilities from 30th June, our members are requesting that the Minister for Health personally intervenes at this late stage to ensure that this matter is addressed immediately.”
Negotiations on public service pay have concluded in the early hours of Friday (June 17th) without agreement at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).
SIPTU Deputy General Secretary, John King, has said “it was very disappointing that it was not possible to close out on a review of the Public Service Agreement, Building Momentum, despite lengthy talks taking place at the WRC with officials from the government department for Public Expenditure.”
“Public service Unions are disappointed that, despite an element of positive engagement during the day, the reality is that the government side were not in a position to move into a space where agreement could be concluded.”
SIPTU and the ICTU public service unions had invoked the review clause of the agreement given the impact of inflation and increases in the costs of living on the value of workers’ wages; and the fact that these developments had completely eroded the benefit of modest the modest increases contained in Building Momentum.
The WRC requested both sides reflect on their position and public service Unions remain available for further engagement should the WRC invite the parties to further discussions.
SIPTU Deputy General Secretary, John King, has told the union’s Biennial Delegate Conference that members within the community sector will begin a national campaign of protest, industrial and strike action aimed at ending “the neglect of this sector by the state”.
Addressing the conference today (Tuesday, 29th March) in Sligo, King said the campaign would begin with a national protest in Dublin on Monday, 11th April.
He added; “The continued neglect, underfunding and wilful abandonment of the workers in this sector by the State and the establishment is shameful. Community and Section 39 Agency workers provide essential public services, on behalf of the State, to some of the most vulnerable and marginalised citizens and communities.
“The denial of funding for improvements in pay and conditions of employment is unacceptable. The move to privatise and commercialise some of these services will have profound negative consequences for our society and the citizens and communities that rely on them.”
He continued: “The Government must engage with this union to put in place a process that ensures these workers and their representatives can engage in a meaningful collective bargaining process that delivers implementable outcomes. If this Government is serious about the concept of Sectoral Bargaining, treating all the stakeholders as equals then it should show it in this Sector of our economy.
“SIPTU, with our colleague unions – Forsa and INMO will be supporting community sector workers in a campaign of protest, industrial and strike action in their pursuit of the right to be treated fairly and equitably. This commences on Monday, 11th April with a national protest and I ask you all to do everything you can to support this. Join us on our protest and let’s show solidarity with the resolve of community sector workers to make sure 2022 becomes the year we end their neglect by the State.”
In his address, King also renewed his call for the Government to review the Building Momentum, Public Sector Agreement. He said: “This is necessary right now because the underlying assumptions underpinning this modest agreement no longer apply. Inflation and the risk to the exchequer finances arising from the impact of the Covid pandemic are not in the place they were in 2020.”
More than 350 delegates are attending the SIPTU Biennial Delegate Conference in the Clayton Hotel in Sligo which to debate and discuss motions on improving the lives of workers in Ireland.
SIPTU representatives have called for an urgent meeting with the management of the HSE following the shocking revelation that patients and staff have, for several months, been using an unsafe hand sanitiser at health facilities across the country.
SIPTU Deputy General Secretary, John King, said: “Our members across the country are very concerned at this shocking development. HSE and other health facilities are risky and dangerous enough for staff and patients coping with Covid 19 without there being health risks associated with the use of a hand sanitising product.
“It is particularly disturbing given the importance placed by public health authorities on effective and regular hand washing as an essential measure in helping to prevent the spread of the virus.
“SIPTU members have been instructed and advised to use the unsafe ViroPro product extensively over the last seven months.
“We are now seeking immediate engagement with the HSE in order to obtain an explanation about the circumstances which led to the procurement and use of a product containing methanol which can cause serious health conditions including dermatitis, eye and upper respiratory system irritation as well as headaches.”
“SIPTU members also need to know what safe and effective alternative sanitiser the health authorities are going to provide and when and how they intend to roll it out across the health system.
Ireland is set to reopen at the end of June as we prepare to exit the lockdown following the outbreak of the coronavirus on our shores. However, health experts, the world over, say there is a good chance the coronavirus will be with us for a long time yet.
This reality means changing the way we interact, the way we work, the way we travel, the way we socialise and the way we care for each other.
A coronavirus-tinged world without a foreseeable end may be the cause of great fear for millions of people but with fear comes hope. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope for a “new normal” that works for the many.
As we learn to live with the coronavirus, we have an opportunity to focus on what a better tomorrow, what a “new normal” can look like and how we can work together to achieve it.
For example, in health, our “new normal” can end record high hospital waiting lists, put a full stop on unequal two tiered health services and draw a line under the sick business of health and elder care profiteering.
The Covid-19 crisis has given people across the world a renewed and deep appreciation of how we collectively rely on all essential workers. From our cleaners to our consultants health workers have spent the lockdown, in the trenches, keeping us safe and our loved ones healthy, often at considerable risk to themselves.
The sheer speed and scale of this pandemic has made us question what we value and seek where the solutions really lie. It has shown us what the State can do when it acts with urgency and mobilises the necessary resources and there should be no going back.
No going back to a broken system that discriminates, that denies access to essential services on the basis of what’s in a sick person’s pocket or health insurance plan.
The sole criteria should always be need, with universal basic services provided free to people funded through a progressive and sustainable taxation system.
Sláintecare represents a concrete plan and roadmap to make this a reality.
The plan, supported by the Irish trade union movement, was agreed in cross party committee in 2017 and adopted by government. The plan commits government to creating a modern, integrated health system, delivering timely care based on clinical need, for all.
The crisis has seen a fast-forwarding of Sláintecare — not only the use of public facilities for the public, but the sequestering of private facilities for the public good, so clearly when there is a will, there is a way.
The draft programme for government, yet to be endorsed by Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Green Party members speaks of plans to “further accelerate the implementation of Sláintecare” with appropriate funding measures to be examined in “advance of Budget 2022” but we need to go further.
The last few weeks and months has been a real wakeup call for all of us. We have paid a tremendously high price for underinvestment in our public care services.
This has been borne out by the unacceptably high number of deaths in nursing homes with 50% of all COVID-19 fatalities, as identified by the Department of Health, as having occurred in a nursing home settings.
The special Oireachtas Covid-19 Committee was told this week that one in five of the 30,000 residents of nursing homes were confirmed to have a Covid-19 positive diagnosis.
This is unacceptable. We, as a society, must do and demand better.
In the not too distant past, the State has promoted the proliferation of private nursing homes by designating them “industrial buildings”, eligible for tax breaks against construction and refurbishment.
This deliberate, rampant outsourcing of elderly care means that 82% of nursing home care is now provided by private “for profit” organisations with wealthy investors and ever demanding shareholders.
If we can learn anything from this pandemic it must be that public service delivery of this care, with established staffing levels, safe skill-mix levels and decent pay for workers rooted in the community is the only fair future for elder care services.
It is beyond doubt that the failure of successive governments to invest in health, coupled with ideologically driven cutbacks and outsourcing policies, has led to critical failures in patient care systems.
The time is now for these systems to be reimagined to make sure we, as a society, don’t go back to the tried and tested care models of the past and build an inclusive and democratic dialogue about the nature, operation and delivery of all our public services.