General Secretary’s Address to ADC 2015

Annual Report – from Eoin Ronayne, General Secretary CPSU.

Colleagues,

It is again an honour for me to propose the Annual Report for adoption at our 93rd Annual Conference. After 7 years of the cruellest and harshest cuts in pay and conditions imposed by Government on its own workers, at the behest outsiders and because of the wrong doings of the rich and powerful, we stand together to demand RESTORATION!.

More than ever it is imperative lower paid workers show solidarity with one another…more than ever it imperative that we in this union lay aside any personal internal concerns in favour of uniting to take on those who caused us such pain and hardship. Colleagues let this Conference be dominated by the desire to speak with one voice. Let us recognise today that this is our opportunity to present a united and strong CPSU. Let us pledge that nothing said over the next day and a half of debate will damage that unity and strength. Let us send a clear message to Government it’s time for RESTORATION!

Three years ago when I took over a General Secretary the CPSU like all other unions was in the apex of the tornado of destruction waged on our terms and conditions. No crisis in the last 100 years of trade union activity has ever matched the intensity and unfairness of that attack on our members and their union. That we stand today with a membership level not significantly different to that of a decade ago is a measure of the value members place on the union and its services but more importantly on their desire to face up to the challenge and to demand now what is rightfully theirs.

Building a Better Union Strategy

Back in Cork in 2012 I set out and Conference strongly endorsed a programme of change and reform for the CPSU…Building a Better Union envisaged change and progress under three headings…Organisation, Head Office and Communications. These are dealt with in the Annual Report but let me briefly address them here.

Organisation

Since it’s the foundation in the early days of the Free State the CPSU has had a few name changes, amalgamations and mergers along the way. Indeed let me note at this point the death earlier this year of former General Secretary Billy Lynch. I never knew the man but I am told he was certainly a figure not easily ignored.  Each new Executive and indeed each new General Secretary set out a programme for managing and developing the union.

While our core representative structure remains the Branch there will always be a process of evolution and change driven by policy decisions at Conference and the work programmes agreed by the Executive and implemented by the General Secretary and the Head Office team. I set out a clear goal to rejuvenate the Branch Structure, to engage members more fully in the business of the union. Since then I have ensured Head Office Officials attend as many branch meetings as possible and at last year’s ADC it was possible to show how active officials have been in meeting members in all parts of the country.

I have sought to ensure the rule book has been applied with more rigour than at any time in the past in an effort to increase attendance at meetings and ensure those coming forward to representative positions on our Committees have a clear democratic mandate. This process of ensuring that Branch AGMs have the appropriate quorum started last year after the Executive approved a strict Protocol for Head Office Officials to apply. This year only two of our 81 active Branches failed to have an attendance at or above that required by rule for duly convened meetings. This insistence on applying the rule has been hard on many branches especially those with a large geographic area but the outcome has been greater attendances and more members participating. It may appear heavy handed but the Protocol has been successful in making branches more accountable and transparent and the opportunity exists next year when we debate Rule changes to streamline the rules covering Branch democracy. But it’s not just rules relating to branches that need to be updated. Since becoming General Secretary it has become very clear to me that we have many and varied loopholes in our rule book which cause confusion and even conflict when moving to bring change and rejuvenation to the union’s structures and organisation.

Last year at ADC the application by the independent returning officer of the Seanad Eireann Proportional Representation election rules caused yet again another electoral mini crisis. Concern centred on whether the Officer had applied the correct formula for establishing the quota in the Presidential and Vice Presidential Election. ADC agreed to a review at Head Office and following legal advice and much debate at the Executive I am pleased to say that President Tony Conlon and Vice President Joan Byrne have established a very positive working relationship focused in both their parts on putting the members of this union first. In particular The President, Vice President and myself agreed that the electoral count procedures should be issued in advance to all the candidates in the Executive election at ADC this year and this has indeed happened. I have no doubt however that next year will see comprehensive rule amendments in relation to our electoral processes.

Head Office

The lengthy IT modernisation programme at Head Office has been largely completed in the last few years and it is that system which now gives us the data and ability to manage branch membership more accurately. It took so long mainly because of the absence until recent years of usable data from the various departmental payroll centres. From having a membership system showing nearly 30,000 members in 2003 we have now got to the stage that within an acceptable margin of error we can at the request of a branch secretary print off a membership list accurate to the last payroll run. This has meant we have been able to end the practice of guesstimating the number of delegates a Branch can send to ADC and to set the quorum for each AGM based on the rules.

But the membership data now available has many other advantages and will allow us target recruitment drives by location and facilitate direct contact between the union and each member either by text or email.

During the year we also reassigned officials to meet the challenges facing us across the organisation. In particular I have for some time endeavoured to find resources to meet the needs of the ever expanding Justice/Garda area and I am pleased to say we have now delivered a second official Dennis Keane IRO to work with DGS Derek Mullen in the sector while Theresa Dwyer AGS will continue to work on the Garda Equal Pay case. This has been a long sought development by the representatives in the sector and I look forward to great strides being made in delivering increased services to the members in the sector.

A range of other Head Office changes and developments have been made in the last three years especially in the area of Finance and members benefits while we have recruited new staff to replace those retiring.

Our Membership Information and Rights Unit continues to evolve and expand and we have had a significant number of successful third party victories. Interestingly other public service unions are now examining our unit with a view to implementing similar type responses to individual member queries and cases. It would be wrong to say all has worked seamlessly but it is indeed true to say we have left few stones unturned in the effort to modernise and develop our services to members from Head Office. Of course there have been problems and breakdowns in service but we are on a journey and I ask that members bear with us as we strive to deliver a better more comprehensive and responsive service.

Communications

The third area of development targeted for change was our communications strategy. The CPSU has always placed a high value on communications both internal and external. In recent years we have made our main website which is based on older technology more comprehensive with the introduction of video and daily updating. This year we have launched our RESTORATION! Mini website to support our campaign, a new Facebook RESTORATION! Page, a presence on You Tube and Sound Cloud as well as Twitter. At this point I’d like to thank all those who have made themselves available for interview on video for the site and to ask you delegates to take part in the RESTORATION! Video Room recording sessions here at ADC. Aontas has been revamped and as a result of the Online Survey carried out last year it is back in A4 format. In the coming month or so our new E-zine News Update will replace the existing Word based News Update and the plan is to use the Membership System to e-mail directly to those members for which we have e-mail addresses.

Outsourcing/Privatisation

Last autumn we held a very successful seminar on Outsourcing. We have long understood this to be our greatest threat in the longer term. Outsourcing is not only a threat to our jobs and our terms and conditions it is also a threat to the delivery of good public services to the citizens of the state. We have experienced a range of outsourcing initiatives in recent times. Job Activation in Social Protection, Mapping in Agriculture, Call Centre work in the National Consumer Agency, LPT call centre work in Revenue to mention a few and now the threat of call centre outsourcing in the Passport Office. Look at LPT…Over 5 million given to a private sector company when that money could have been used to recruit over 130 Clerical Officers to provide ongoing services such as LPT and others to Revenue. Why is the Government hell bent on lining the pockets of their private sector business friends when the same money could be used to build a State operated facility to provide call centre services to a range of Departments. Frustrating is not the word…it’s so blindingly obvious …the logic of setting up a State run facility that is …not the cronyism of looking after private sector business contacts! …But why is this such a worry for us colleagues?

Well let me mention Greyhound…bin charges…the outsourcing of bins to the private sector…we were proud last year to stand with and support the workers in Greyhound…because you know …that’s the end result of the LPTs and the Job Activations ..work goes to private sector employers who drive pay and conditions down to the lowest level possible and before we know it public service standards are destroyed and the workers are treated like dirt. That’s why we must and will oppose every effort to outsource our work. Let us salute too the Bus Eireann and Dublin Bus workers who are standing up to Privatisation in defence of decent jobs and public services….And you know.. the really sad thing is that those who profess to stand for the worker have stood by and let this happen…no politician on the left can have the luxury of being allowed outsource public service jobs…the two don’t join up…if you’re a left wing politician then you stand and fight outsourcing and privatisation!

Right 2 Water

Last year we voted overwhelmingly to support a campaign to stop water charges and to defend the provision of water as a basic human right. We, along with four other unions have been at the leadership of Right2Water…this broad coalition of unions, progressive politicians and community groups which mounted a determined campaign and has delivered much more than could have been expected from the outset. Right 2 Water has ensured households have not only had the huge and unfair water bills forced on them slashed but it has been to the vanguard of a new political dawning. After years of austerity and confusion among citizens about the way forward.. an opportunity to build a new alliance for a better Ireland is within grasp. Right 2 Water is preparing policy papers with a view to building a platform for a new alternative. And god knows after the years of hardship and pain suffered by ordinary workers both private and public isn’t that a goal worth working for? Is it too much to ask of the voters in 2016 or even this autumn when a General Election is held that we vote for political parties and candidates who put the rights of workers, their trade unions and the interests of those wo have suffered most first? We have had enough of politicians tugging the forelock to the powerful and wealthy elite who got us into the mess we are in…..it’s time for workers to vote for real change!

Let me mention here colleagues a really important battle for our sisters in MANDATE and SIPTU. WE have our own concerns over inappropriate extensions of TCO fixed term contracts but that battle is in the halfpenny place to what’s going on in Dunnes Stores. Here we have a highly secretive multi million euro profitable company denying workers basic rights to know when and for how long they will work in any week with appropriate notice…it could be 15 hours or it could be 35 …its akin to the way workers were treated in 1913…you work when the boss says you work otherwise you starve…this is a clarion call to all trade unionists…if Margaret …interesting she shares the same name as Mrs Thatcher …gets away with this all employers even the State will look for the same…Government must legislate now to protect these workers and we wholly support the efforts of MANDATE and I urge you to join in their demonstration in June. Let us show today that we support these workers and that despite the efforts of IBEC and ISME let us show that public sector workers understand and support their fellow lower paid workers in the Private Sector …Dunnes Workers …we salute you!

 

 

Trade Union Commission Report

For the last number of years the ICTU has been encouraging debate within its 47 affiliated unions in the island of Ireland on the implications of its Trade Union Commission Report. Later we will debate the Executive Motion on the Report from our Amalgamation Sub Group. There is no doubt that the trade union movement is in an era of great Change. I welcome the appointment of Patricia King as General Secretary…many years ago I negotiated beside her in RTE…since then she has become a formidable force and it would be a brave person who would not heed her arguments. But change colleagues there will be. Congress in five to ten years will not be as it is now. The question is where do our interests lie and I urge you to support the work of the sub-group. It is only by exploring the way forward that we can ensure a relevance for the CPSU in the future. I believe we must continue to look at options for the future ..to do otherwise would be to risk marginalising this union. We have a duty to those who come after us to ensure we leave them an organisation capable of delivering for them.

YES Equality!

And that neatly brings me to the point where I urge you to deliver equality for all our citizens. Last year I referred several times to the Proclamation of 1916. It has a place of honour on the wall behind my desk. I believe it sums up what being part of the Irish nation is all about. I get a lump in my throat every time I read the part which talks about cherishing all the children of the nation equally…what greater aspiration can any nation have? The CPSU has long battled, often alone, striving to deliver equality for its members and workers in general…we have a long and proud tradition of defending and championing the rights of women workers…but that belief in equality must stretch beyond our own immediate interests if it’s to have any moral validity…we must strive for equality in all areas where discrimination may occur. In a few weeks Ireland has an unique opportunity to show to the world how much it cherishes all the children of the nation equally and to set a beacon of hope for all our citizens…I urge you to leave this conference and to participate wherever and however you can to deliver a YES vote on the Referendum on Civil Marriage…this colleagues is not about denying any person their right to hold a belief rooted in their religious creed …this is about the state we live in recognising that in our constitution all children are to be treated equally..I for one cannot accept that the citizens of this State believe otherwise…if 1916 means anything to us it is that we are an open tolerant and inclusive Republic …let us show that by a resounding YES for Equality victory on May 22nd.

RESTORATION!

I read Dan O’Brien’s commentary in the Sunday Indo last weekend you’ll be more than pleased to know .. sorry Colleagues but you pay me well to endure that sort of nonsense and so I do read it…and not without cause…people like Dan have this notion that all public servants earn over €50,000 a year…well chance would be a fine thing!…and that there’s this gap …even still between public service pay and the private sector…John Fitzgerald was trotting that hardy annual out during the week in the Times.

You see the story is being spun by these well paid …way above the so called average public service pay rate commentators… is that all public servants earn above their private sector comparators…but the analysis is as always based on a selective and highly prejudices understanding of ‘like work’…they continually fail to compare like with like…a significantly high proportion of workers in our categories in the private sector are in non-unionised employment where women particularly are paid less well than men …this drives down pay rates for that sector as a whole when measured against our sector where women workers because of our strong commitment to protecting equal pay …

And of course there’s the reality that Dan and John and their friends have a tad less difficulty surviving in their post bust bubble lifestyle than we do…well maybe I exaggerate…possibly a few less lunches in Chapter One or some such… the reality for higher paid hacks and economic gurus is that austerity is not quite what it is for lower paid workers whether private or public sector…they live in a different world ..their own micro bubble …the fact is they do not share or understand the reality of our members…I can hear their conversations at the bar in Nesbit’s …”these public servants really don’t know how lucky they are with their secure jobs”..…really …should that be more like ….”surviving on a pay cut of 20% in real terms and many depending on FIS” … what a joke Dan ….isn’t it time you took a trip out of the Indo palace and met the real world of lower paid public servants …you try living on our members wages for a week let alone a year!

So with the right wing media against us where do we stand…good news folks … DPER Minister Brendan Howlin has said several times although not in the recent Spring Statement that …pay restoration must begin with the lower paid! Well Halleluiah …then again… should we heed the warning “Beware the stranger bearing gifts”?

Maybe a look back at the grossly unbalanced progression in the fortune of higher paid public servants is worthwhile. Between 1979 and 2009 the pay rate for the Secretary General Level 3 increased by 1011% compared with that of the Clerical Officer at just a little less than half or 529%. Put another way the Sec Gen 3 in 2009 was 6 times better paid than the Clerical Officer at the max while in 1979 he/she was only 3 ½ times better paid. Even with the austerity cuts including the Haddington Road Agreement the Sec Gen 3 is up 837% on 1979 compared with 529% for the CO that’s still 4 ½ times better off. Even after all the cuts the higher grades are still light years ahead of the base grade of public administrator in terms of salary increases. Is it any wonder we are arguing for a flat rate increase as part of our RESTORATION! Campaign

And that ultimately is the justification for our pay campaign. Lower paid public servants were left behind by the Celtic Tiger…the higher grades in the public sector steamed ahead and any analysis of the cuts shows they are still way ahead. They were the beneficiaries of the so-called right wing theory of “trickle down’ economics…pay the top loads more and the bottom will benefit in due course….well of course that didn’t happen in the private or public sector…and even in the era of austerity cuts it didn’t happen in reverse…the higher paid are still way higher paid and our job is to fight to close the pay gap…these forthcoming public service pay talks are the vehicle we must use.

Let me make it absolutely clear as far as the CPSU is concerned these pay restoration talks called by Minister Howlin are only welcome and valid if they move to end the injustice of the pay gap built by their predecessors in Government, Fianna Fail and what was once known as the PDs …. We are not interested if that is not the goal and we will be out of there like a hare from a trap if their plan is otherwise!

What is needed is a commitment over the next few years to reverse the trend of increasing higher pay at the expense of the lower paid through the use of mechanisms such as the flat rate increase.

At the beginning of March we launched our RESTORATION! Campaign through new social media outlets with the goal of highlighting our just call for prioritisation of the lower paid for recovery of pay and conditions.

In the workplace we have had to cope with the moratorium – no new Clerical Officer recruits for nearly seven years, the ban on promotions often with higher grade work being passed off on our grades without any recognition yet at the same time demand for our services has increased as a result of the economic downturn. Our members have worked to the bone to deliver a professional public service while enduring an 18% to 20% cut in take home pay and a reduction in family friendly arrangements coupled with an increase in working hours for no pay. Bluntly, if this is not taking the proverbial I don’t know what is? The time has now come to put all that right.

We are committed to entering talks with Government on RESTORATION! As part of the Public Services Committee of the ICTU. We have a clear mandate and agenda. As far as we are concerned we want it all back. We will be realistic in terms of the timeline but let us be very clear we will only do business if the restoration in the first instance is flat rate i.e. an increase which delivers real increases in take home pay on the basis of a lump sum ongoing increase in pay which in practice closes the gap between lower pay rates and those at the very top…we have waited a long time and we believe the citizens of the State would be happy to accept an increase in pay for the lower paid which ensures that they above all others reap the reward of the emergence from the years of austerity.

Colleagues we will debate the various motions on the Clár in relation to pay and conditions restoration but I ask you now to state clearly and without equivocation so that Government will hear our voice here in Killarney….…are we in the CPSU united in our call that pay and conditions restoration must prioritise the lower paid? …are we saying FEMPI must go?……are we saying the Pension levy must be reversed? ….are we saying the Haddington Road additional hours must go? … are we united and together as one in demanding of government that any pay restoration must be of a flat rate to benefit the lower paid? Colleagues we are saying clearly to government ….Its time RESTORATION! Restore Pay and Conditions Prioritise the lower paid

Beir Bua!