The following is a statement from Walter Cullen, UNITE’s Regional Co-ordinating Officer.
UNITE is extremely concerned at the conduct of the negotiations to date:
1. The Government has announced that if they do not get a deal, they will act unilaterally by legislating cuts in wages and working conditions. This ‘deal’ means €1 billion cuts in the public sector. This coercive pre-condition has completely undermined the ability of trade union negotiators to represent their members. Management has made it clear that if it does not get what it wants at the table, they will walk away and take what they want anyway. In such circumstances, there is no prospect of ‘good-faith’ negotiations. If the Government were truly intent on reaching an agreement which satisfies both parties, it would remove this pre-condition from the table. But this is not likely.
2. The Government has made it absolutely clear that they are not interest in discussing or even hearing alternative proposals on how to achieve savings in the public sector. They are only interested in payroll cuts. The 300,000 public sector workers are fully aware of the deficits in public services and have demonstrated this by the non-pay savings and efficiencies that have been delivered over the lifetime of the current agreement. It appears that achieving further efficiencies and structural reform is not something management are interested in, which demonstrates an amazing indifference to public sector reform. No one should be in any doubt – the ongoing negotiations have nothing to do with creating high-quality, cost-efficient public service delivery systems. This is about cutting people’s incomes. Reform doesn’t even feature at the talks.
3. The deadline for concluding the negotiations is the end of the month – only seven days away. The Government has not presented all their proposals – and none of them in the detail needed to begin proper and informed negotiations. Further, the Government has been slow to provide the information that trade union negotiators have requested – namely, information regarding the financial impact on public sector workers. Under these conditions, the seven-day deadline is impossible to reach. The Government knows this and this may explain their delaying tactics to date. They may not be interested in reaching a consensus with workers’ representatives and may be happy enough to see the talks collapse so that they can do what they intended to anyway – cut wages by legislation.
UNITE has made two things clear: (a) we will remain at the talks so that we can be in a position to protect our members; and (b) we have no mandate from our members to negotiate a cut in their living standards or working conditions. We are ready to engage with the Government on how to create real, sustainable savings in public service delivery – savings that will increase the quality of those services. However, the Government has made it clear they are not interested in such a discussion.
And that is where the real problem lies.