Delegates it is my honour to second this year’s Annual Report to Conference in Killarney.
It is ten years since we last held Conference here in Killarney and the world has changed over that time, and not for the better. Austerity has visited these shores championed by a neo-liberal technocracy that has little or no respect for working people and the societies they live in.
Wreckers of Public Services, bottom line accountants and technocrats with no civil regard, who slashed and burned their way through our economy.
But the Troika has gone and our democratically elected government must prove their mettle as they head towards an election year with much lost ground to make up.
Let’s not make it easy for them
2015 is the year we begin to fight back and we send that message loud and clear from this conference to the Government, we want our pay restored, we want the lower paid prioritised and we want public services protected and enhanced.
To achieve the best outcome delegates requires a Unity of Purpose, the likes of which we have never seen before. We need our in-coming Executive to take up this challenge and fight the real fight for the restoration of pay and conditions.
These are serious times and this is a time for serious people, for Trade Union Activists, who believe in this Union, who are willing to fight for this Union, who are willing to lead its members through the campaigns ahead. Anybody not willing to fight that good fight, anybody who does not want to put a supportive shoulder to the wheel as we fight for restoration of pay and conditions, has no business here.
I make these comments because it is important to do so and I am prepared to put it on the line today because I believe in this Union and its members and what we have to do for them to make things better.
Anybody who knows me should know that I will fight to the end to protect this Union, its good name, its members and those colleagues who work so hard alongside me, fighting the good fight day in and day out. I have served this Union proudly for 25 years and will continue to do so, fighting for what is right, for the real agenda our members set today and other days.
Delegates you know what I speak of, and as I said and I will reiterate we have serious business to do and we need serious people to do it.
In this regard the very best of luck to all those standing in todays election, you have some work ahead of you.
Colleagues this has been our lost decade, almost, and it is without precedent, with pay being stripped by 18 to 20 %, new taxes included.
In our pay restoration document before conference we show losses of €100 in net take home pay for lower paid Workers represented by this Union.
We also show the best way to deal with restoration through a flat rate approach which benefits those on lower pay much more than those at senior executive level whose pay raced ahead in the so called boom, primarily through the bonus culture, skewed benchmarking and percentage increases.
10% of €100k is €10k, 10% of €35k is €3,500, nice work if you can get it. Percentage up and widen the gap.
However give a CO starting off on €20k a flat rate €2k increase and it is worth 10%, but only 2.5% at €80k.
Do I need to say anymore?
I will return to the pay restoration agenda in my concluding comments.
One of my primary responsibilities as DGS is to guide policy changes and progress claims through our Industrial Relations machinery, known as the conciliation and arbitration scheme, which was established in the 1950’s due to the exclusion of public service Unions from the Labour Court process, established in 1946.
As we look towards 2016, excuse the pun, we face the deconstruction of our own IR machinery and the removal of the legislative bar first introduced almost 60 years ago.
I think this will be a positive step, but not without its challenges particularly as the new work place relations act comes into being.
In this context the state structures need to be resourced and be capable of handling the additional public service IR agenda, no small agenda indeed.
For me, looking back over the last year at General Council I would have to highlight both CO recruitment and EO promotions as one of the big success stories of the year. Effectively we broke the back of the moratorium, the bluntest of instruments, and for the first time in years we will see hundreds of CO’s being recruited and hundreds of members being promoted to Executive Officer. For the first time we also see members being promoted to higher levels, particularly HEO, following the cross stream agreement, which my colleague Paul Mc Sweeney worked so hard on.
The ending of the moratorium was no small feat and it is an important step in normalising public services right across the state.
Two negative points though arise from these important developments, firstly the psychometric test process, in widespread use at EO promotion level, is not fit for purpose, despite the remonstrations of DPER and Public Jobs. It is crude culling mechanism and no more than that, but we could not, despite our best efforts, eliminate it for this current round of competitions although the debate continues with more discussions due next week.
Secondly the effective dismissal of 109 colleagues on temporary contracts at Peoplepoint was a shameful act, jobs are jobs are jobs and those people deserved the establishment competition they were promised. The fight continues for remaining temporary CO’s in Peoplepoint and elsewhere.
Turning to Shared Services, Government can hardly claim a good score card on this much trumpeted set of reforms.
PeoplePoint has been an un-mitigated disaster from a management perspective, the only saving grace being the hard work of our members who work there.
Pay roll shared services also has its challenges, although probably less so than on the HR front. There is a potential disaster though around the corner on the payroll front, unless Management get their act together.
Even as I speak I am preparing a ballot for potential industrial action arising from payroll delays for shift workers in Garda Civilian, and the warning from this Conference is that we will follow through on that threat if payroll shared services fail to resolve backlogs in the pay and allowances of our members in that sector.
Management were advised this week that ballot papers will issue next Monday in the absence of a resolution.
Pay delays throughout last year were also a feature, but despite a recent blip, we have managed to secure agreement that SEPA related delays on bank holidays will not occur again and we have also forced a new memorandum of understanding between the Department of Finance and the Bank of Ireland to ensure that the bank’s mistakes are avoided in the future and that wages are paid on time.
A number of important reviews are also taking place or due to start at General Council.
Out of the traps at this point is a review of the disciplinary code. From a management perspective I believe they wish to lessen the protections in the code while we want to enhance them.
Particularly we want a system that does not propose a punishment in advance of our members defence being put. That is how the current code works, and as a result it lacks natural justice. You are found guilty first then you have to try and work back from that position. Not an easy task when the Personnel Officer has made their mind up.
Later in the year we will also seek to revise the grievance procedure, which is also unfit for purpose, with it being almost impossible to make an argument in front of a 3rd party under the current scheme.
Clearly the IR changes mentioned earlier will also be a factor with grievance cases being opened up to Rights Commissioners or Adjudicators as they will become known under the new legislation.
Currently we only have access to Rights Commissioners cases on rights based cases, although I would point out that we have had very notable successes here, particularly in cases led by Cliodhna Mc Namara and the MIRU team.
We will also shortly begin the first review of the new sick leave regulations which were introduced in recent years. While it is unlikely that we can roll back the key change which saw the periods on full and half pay cut in half, we will nevertheless seek to influence the policy in the right direction, taking account of motions from last year, with similar motions on the Agenda again this year.
The other review in progress is dealing with the Shorter Working Year and in particular issues about its application in certain Departments such as DSP and Defence.
In the last year we also reached agreement on incremental progression for members moving from fixed term contracts to permanent contracts. An important agreement for members in that category.
We also managed to merge the imposed and reduced 2010 CO pay scale with the current pay scale, although we advance to forthcoming talks with the challenge of removing the lower pay points that are still imposed.
We have also recently reached agreement in changes on the travel and subsistence front and won the right at Arbitration to progress external appeals under the PMDS up to rating 3.
We watch closely the Civil Service renewal proposals and we still await any proposal they may make on grade restructuring in the Civil Service, with particular interest in the Staff officer grade.
Delegates we live in a world where low pay and poor conditions are the default position. Capitalism is winning and the Trade Union movement is fighting a rear-guard. We must support this fight wherever it arises, this is so important as workers fight for their rights. In Ireland at Dunnes Stores and at Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann, amongst so many. We acknowledge their fight and pledge our support today.
More tragically abroad where workers are dying for wages that were typical in the lock out years in Ireland. Today we should remember the workers of Rana Plaza who literally slaved and died to dress the western world. Think about that the next time you go to your local shopping centre. It is only in our support that workers in the rest of the so called developing world can rise above their tragic plight. Support fair trade and the clean clothes campaign.
Colleagues I will conclude where I started, this is the year we will begin the restoration of pay for our member’s, who have suffered considerably in recent years.
We have set four main priorities for talks including the 2009 Pension Levy, the 2010 FEMPI imposed pay cut, the USC and the additional working hours under the HRA, which has had a severe impact on working families trying to achieve a fair work life balance.
Seventy per cent of our membership are Women and they faced an attack under the HRA with changes to family friendly schemes such as work sharing and flexi time. It is now our time to try and roll that change back.
In terms of pay our success will be measured by how much we can return to the pockets of our members.
Recent arguments made by John Fitzgerald do not stand up, the notion that there is an argument to increase executive pay but not the pay of lower paid, predominantly female workers is shocking.
You are not comparing like with like Mr Fitzgerald, when you argue that such workers are better off than their private sector counterparts, it wouldn’t be difficult when you look at pay and conditions in an often un-unionised private sector, typified by zero hour contracts and minimum wages.
It is time to fight for a real living wage for all workers.
We will also be measured by our success in defending good Public Services particularly from the threat of outsourcing. If the private sector are such good entrepreneurs why do they want to carry out public service functions? I’ll tell you why, for a cheap profit.
They have no business in our business and there is no room for the sort of cronyism that has delivered good public sector jobs to the private sector. Today we call on the Government to return public jobs to public service and establish a new shared service to carry out functions such as call centre work for the Civil and Public Service.
Delegates the order of business, the real challenge, for this conference is pay restoration, and let us deal with that agenda relentlessly.
There is no time for craven talk at this conference, there is time though for the real business of this conference, let’s get on with it.
Thank you delegates
It is my privilege to commend the Annual Report to you.