Facing the challenges in 2012

OPINION

22nd December 2011

IMPACT General Secretary SHAY CODY looks at the year ahead and the challenges facing public servants in year three of the Croke Park agreement.

As the year draws to a close public servants will have cause to reflect on the changes in their workplace in 2011. In the New Year, many thousands of public servants are preparing to retire, and their exit from service at the end of February is going to create enormous challenges in most workplaces.

Fortunately, for most of our members, the Public Service (Croke Park) agreement, remains in place. This allows for flexibility and reorganisation of public services as large numbers of workers leave. This is vital both for the workers who will remain and public they serve. One of the most important achievements of the agreement so far is that services continue to be maintained despite the reduction in numbers.

Our members in the commercial and voluntary sectors don’t have this protection, and the union is having to find other ways of protecting them in a harsh economic climate.

Public servants will also be conscious that the public debate about Ireland’s economic situation continues to be dominated, at least in some parts of the national media, by advocates for the renegotiation or abandonment of the agreement. This is entirely predictable, as the voices that demand the scrapping of the agreement now are the same voices that have a long history of hostility to Ireland’s public services and those who deliver them.

Ironically, as numbers decline at an unprecedented rate, some of these voices now complain that it is not a matter of the numbers of people employed but of the pay and pensions of public servants. When the OECD observed some years ago that the size of Ireland’s public sector was about average for a country this size, these were the same people who ignored those studies and continued to refer to our ‘bloated public services’.

Looking ahead, we can see what these particular commentators want to achieve in 2012. Next year they will again demand a budget that leaves personal taxation, including the taxation of wealth, untouched. They will argue that public servants should not be ‘insulated’ from budgetary measures, despite the fact that each and every public servant is subject to every cut and every new charge introduced in the budget.

Listening to some of the language of those who want the agreement shelved (one of them referred to the Croke Park as a ‘cancer’ on one of RTÉ’s prime time light entertainment shows), it is clear that the attacks and scapegoating will continue in 2012. It may well intensify.

We will also hear continuing calls for a suspension of the increments on public servants. We know that, in essence, this is a call for pay cuts. One that would have a disproportionate effect on lower paid and younger public servants who are in the earliest years of their pay grade.

Despite all the noise generated by opponents of the agreement, it is widely recognised that it’s working. It is saving money at a time when the state is obliged to reduce its spending and deliver on the reductions demanded by the Troika who are lending money to the state. It is maintaining services at a time when the public need them most. It is helping to restore Ireland’s badly battered reputation abroad, with many countries looking on with envy as all of this is achieved in a time of industrial peace.

IMPACT members have shown a unity and strength as never before in rising to meet all of these challenges. We should be proud of that. The achievements of the Croke Park agreement are only possible because of that collective and determined effort; it has always been the backbone of the trade union movement, helping workers to get through the darkest of days.

The continuing financial uncertainty in Europe leads means we face into a New Year which full of hurdles and challenges, so our sense of solidarity and collective determination will stand to us all.

Thanks for your support. I would like to take this opportunity to wish each of you and your families a very happy and peaceful Christmas, and the very best of wishes for the New Year.