Fórsa: frequently asked questions (FAQ)

What am I voting on?
What will the new union be called?
What is the deadline for voting?
What are the advantages of a new union?
How would our negotiating hand be strengthened?
What new financial benefits will I get as a member?
Will it cost me more in union subs?
Will my union branch change?
Will my interests get by-passed in such a large organisation?
Will there be changes to the IMPACT divisions?
Will any one division dominate the new union?
Will technical and professionals be dominated by general civil service grades?
How will branches be funded?
Will any one of the three unions be able to change the agreed rules?
Will the new union be financially secure?
What will the staffing structure look like?
What do union officials and staff stand to lose or gain from a merger?
Will the new union be able to attract new members?
What improvements will I see as activist?
Will an industrial action ballot need a two-thirds majority to pass?

What am I voting on?

A proposal to merge three existing trade unions into one new union in 2018.

The three unions are the Civil Public and Services Union (CPSU), IMPACT, and the Public Service Executive Union (PSEU). If it goes ahead, the new union would have over 80,000 members. This would make it the second largest union on the island of Ireland and by far the largest trade union voice in the Irish civil and public service.

National conferences of each of the three unions voted in favour of the ballot and the executives of each of the three unions have recommended that members vote in favour of the proposed merger.

What will the new union be called?

The name of the proposed new union is Fórsa. This name was chosen by the executive bodies of all three unions following an open competition and creative development process. Fórsa is the Gaelic word meaning a ‘force’ or body of people, as well as meaning ‘leverage’.

What is the deadline for voting?

Ballot papers will issue to branches on Wednesday 18th October. These will be distributed to members who must return their ballot papers to their branch secretary (or directly to IMPACT if they have received a pre-paid envelope with their ballot paper) to arrive not later than 12 noon on Friday 17th November 2017.

This is a national ballot of all IMPACT members. All completed ballot papers received by the deadline will be counted on a national basis to determine the outcome of the IMPACT ballot.

Similar ballots will be carried out by the CPSU and PSEU. The proposed merger will only go ahead if each of the three ballots results in a majority ‘YES’ vote.

What are the advantages of a new union?

A larger, stronger and more powerful organisation would be able to deliver better outcomes for members in pay negotiations, workplace representation, individual membership benefits, and services to branches and activists, through the creation of:

  • One strong negotiating block representing over 80,000 members in the public service, civil service, semi-state sector, community and voluntary organisations, and also some prominent private companies
  • One articulate and expert voice speaking for public servants and public services across the country
  • Substantially enhanced services to existing and future members through the pooling of talents and economies of scale, and
  • A strong foundation for enhancing trade union organisation and campaigning in the public service and beyond.

The proposal also includes strong safeguards to ensure an effective voice for individual grades, and to preserve and enhance the best traditions of each of the three constituent unions.

How would our negotiating hand be strengthened?

The new organisation would be the dominant union voice in public service negotiations – a representative voice that employers, public representatives, and the media couldn’t ignore. Among other advantages, it would create a single voice for clerical officers and equivalent grades across the civil and public services, and for all grade IV-VII equivalents. Its new structures are designed to maximise the advantage that would flow from this – new ‘equivalent grade committees’ or ‘professional committees’ would coordinate activity to ensure that all grades, including professionals and technical staff, have a stronger and more effective voice.

The broad base of the new union would also enable enhanced support for members outside the public service.

What new financial benefits will I get as a member?

With over 80,000 members the new union will be well placed to negotiate more  – and better – deals with suppliers of financial and other services to members. From the outset, the negotiators working on the New Union project believed it should be possible to greatly enhance the existing benefits of each of the existing unions by using the combined purchasing power of the larger, and better resourced, new organisation. A number of third-party suppliers to the three unions were invited to bring forward proposals and a single product, which no single union on its own could secure, will immediately be available to all members. The package covers members as follows:

  • €5,000 illness benefit out of work for more than 12 months
  • €5,000 death of a member
  • €5,000 death of a spouse/qualifying partner
  • €5,000 personal accident cover
  • €5,000 Critical illness cover
  • Evacuation/repatriation expenses – up to €250,000 – for members if deceased, seriously injured or ill abroad.

As the package is an insurance based product each section of cover is separately subject to terms, conditions and exclusions. The scheme also reflects the need to provide cover for members who are contracted to work beyond age 65, and covers working and retired members up to age 70.

Will it cost me more in union subs?

No. Subscription arrangements for existing members of each of the three unions (CPSU, IMPACT and PSEU) will not change. New members will pay €370 a year or 0.8% of gross salary if that’s less than €370 a year. You can read the details of the subscription arrangements HERE.

Existing provisions for enhanced branch subscriptions in certain branches and sectors will continue.

Members’ subs will go into a general fund (92%) to fund the running of the organisation and its services to members, an already-healthy dispute fund (5%), and a developing world fund (3%), which will support trade-union solidarity projects in the developing world.

Will my union branch change?

All existing branches in the three unions will transfer to the new union as they are. But their members and activists will have access to better services.

Will my interests get by-passed in such a large organisation?

No:

  • The merger will not change your branch
  • There will be continuity of your allocated union official
  • You will have the same, or enhanced, union communications, information and training options
  • Your existing entitlements to financial and other benefits will be at least as good as now
  • We will develop a written code of service standards (the code for the civil service is already complete) and an independent ombudsman with powers to deal with complaints over service standards
  • Your right to vote in elections and ballots, and to participate in branch and other union meetings, will not change
  • Agreed new union structures will ensure that all grades – big, small, or medium – will retain control over the issues that directly affect them.

Negotiators from the three unions (CPSU, IMPACT and PSEU) have worked together to agree a rule book and transitional arrangements that maintain, or enhance, members’ entitlements, and preserve the identity and autonomy of grades and branches (however small or large). They also prevent any grade or sector dominating the others. Smaller specialist groups will continue to receive dedicated representation on issues specific to their members.

There will also be a written code of service standards, and a new ombudsman to champion the interests of individuals or branches who have service complaints or  feel they are ‘left behind’ in the merger. The ombudsman will be independent, well-resourced and have sufficient status to make determinations. You can read the code of service standards (including the ombudsman arrangement) HERE.

In addition, there are six-year transitional arrangements, which are mainly (but not exclusively) applicable to the most directly affected sectors – the civil service and services & enterprises sectors – to ease the transition to new structures. There’s also a facility for a review of the operation of the merger arrangements in 2021.

Will there be changes to the IMPACT divisions?

There will be changes in the civil service and services & enterprises divisions, because these are the areas where all three unions have members. The main points are covered below.

There is no membership overlap in the other IMPACT divisions (education, health, local government and municipal). Therefore, they will retain their existing membership and structures. And their executive committees will remain unchanged until the next scheduled divisional conference (or AGM in the case of the municipal employees’ division).

The new civil service division will be about the same size as IMPACT’s existing health & welfare division. Both will have six divisional members on the new national executive committee.

Membership of the new civil service division executive will be made up of three officers (one from each of the three constituent unions) plus 26 ordinary members: ten elected from CPSU grades, ten from PSEU grades and six from IMPACT grades.

During a six-year transitional period, there will be 17 ordinary seats on the services and enterprises divisional executive, with the initial appointment of two each from the CPSU and PSEU, as well as the officers.

The other IMPACT divisions (education, local government and municipal employees) will retain their existing number of divisional members on the new national executive committee.

Five officers will be elected as officers of the national executive at the first conference of the new union (scheduled for May 2018). The new rules ensure that one officer will come from each of the divisions (with the local government and municipal divisions combined for this purpose).

Will any one division dominate the new union?

No. The new union will have members in six distinct sectors – the civil service, education, health & welfare, local government, municipal employees, and ‘services and enterprises,’ which includes staff in commercial and non-commercial semi-states and in the private sector.

The agreed structures will ensure that each of these retains autonomy over issues that are unique to their sector. Each will have its own biennial conference, with powers to determine policies on issues relevant to the sector, and to adopt advisory policies on broader union and social issues. Each sector will also have its own national executive, with powers (for example) to sanction industrial action. Each division will also elect members to an all-union national executive committee.

All-union policies on national issues, or issues that affect members of more than one division, will be determined at a biennial all-union conference. This conference will also elect national union officers and the rules ensure one officer will come from each of the divisions (with the local government and municipal divisions combined for this purpose). In addition to the five officers, the number of divisional representatives on the new national executive committee will be broadly proportionate to membership strength in the six divisions: civil service (6), education (3), health & welfare (6), local government (3), municipal employees (2), and services & enterprises (3).

For the first six years there will be transitional arrangements for the civil service and services & enterprises divisions, including civil service representation on the National Executive Committee. This is because they are the sectors most directly affected by the merger.

The transitional arrangements also allow for the nomination of three additional health & welfare reps on the national executive committee for the short period up to the first all-union conference of the new organisation.

You can read the transitional arrangements HERE.

Will technical and professionals be dominated by general civil service grades?

No. There will be three officers of the new civil service division and the rules provide that a representative of each of the three constituencies (CPSU, IMPACT and the PSEU) will hold one of these positions from day one – and into the future.

As well as the three officers, membership of the new civil service division executive will be balanced between the three constituencies. There will be ten elected from CPSU grades, ten from PSEU grades and six from IMPACT grades.

For the first six years, transitional arrangements will give further protections to the civil service division, including its representation on the national executive committee. You can read the transitional arrangements HERE.

Branches will remain in their current form, ensuring that smaller, specialist groups continue to have control – and dedicated representation – on IR issues specific to their members. And new equivalent grade committees will be established, making it easier to progress professional and technical issues that affect members in more than one branch.

There will also be tangible advantages for all civil service members and branches, including those representing technical and professional grades. These include:

  • Potential for greater influence within departments and agencies – on issues like filling vacant posts, increasing staffing, and opposing unfair work allocation – through co-operation on the ground
  • The ability to act as one union, with one voice, will stop management playing the interests of one group against another. We will be able to deal with differences before meeting management and put a single agreed position to the employer
  • More straightforward recruitment of new members at local level
  • Greater bargaining power on terms and conditions, including the ability to resolve anomalies and disparities between comparable grades.

How will branches be funded?

Branches will receive 10% of their members’ subs, plus a capitation payment, out of the general fund. But any branch can opt to maintain existing (pre-merger) funding arrangements if they prefer. You can read details of subscriptions and branch funding HERE.

Will any one of the three unions be able to change the agreed rules?

No. Any rule changes will be determined by the national delegate conference, as is the current practice in all three unions. Under a transitional arrangement, a higher 75% majority will be required to change union rules until 2024. After that, it will revert to a two-thirds majority requirement.

Will the new union be financially secure?

Yes. In fact, by pooling the resources of the three unions we’ll be financially stronger. From day one, the new union will have €85 million in assets including a €50 million dispute fund.

During the negotiations on the merger an independent auditor (Mercers, which does not work for any of the three constituent unions) was engaged to undertake a ‘due diligence’ exercise. It found that all three unions were financially sound.

What will the staffing structure look like?

The initial senior staffing level will be drawn from the three existing general secretaries plus the IMPACT deputy general secretary. There will be a senior general secretary, a general secretary (public services), a general secretary (organisation and development), and a deputy general secretary.

These will be supported by heads of divisions and functions drawn from the current IMPACT national secretary-level staff and the deputy general secretaries of the CPSU and PSEU.

Existing assistant general secretaries, industrial relations officers and organisers will continue to be assigned to branches and functions as now. And the new organisation will retain the spread and range of assignments for industrial, communications, organising, training, finance and administrative staff.

What do union officials and staff stand to lose or gain from a merger?

Staff will transfer to the new union on their existing pay and conditions.

Will the new union be able to attract new members?

The three unions believe that the enhanced strength and visibility of the new union will make it a focal point for workers – including young workers – who want to become part of an active and effective trade union. There would be huge potential to increase union influence – and outcomes for members – through strategic organisation, recruitment and campaigning on workplace and social issues include housing, health, equality, taxation, and international solidarity.

What improvements will I see as activist?

Services to activists will be enhanced through a network of regional offices (in Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Sligo and Dublin airport) while enhanced resources and economies of scale will mean better training, communications, organising and other services to activists, branches and members.

Will an industrial action ballot need a two-thirds majority to pass?

No. Under the new rules, an industrial action ballot requires a simple majority – 50%+1 – to pass. This reflects current practice in the PSEU and CPSU, and is a change from the current IMPACT requirement for a two-thirds majority.

What are the disciplinary procedures going to be?

There will be a standing disciplinary sub-committee of the national executive committee and a written set of disciplinary procedures and appeals, which you can read HERE.