Economic recovery and pay talks a cause for ‘cautious optimism’ while privatisation threat remains a concern
The chair of IMPACT’s Local Government division, Shane Lambert, has told conference delegates that the years of recession has encouraged workers to unite and support each other. Speaking at the opening of the conference in Galway this evening (Wednesday 20th May), Shane told delegates “Attempts to pit private and public sector workers against each other have failed. Workers are coming together to support each other in times of difficulty. We need to value that solidarity and continue to support each other” he said.
Shane said that a more aggressive approach by management, characterised by a refusal to negotiate or engage with workers, had grown in both the private and public sectors, and referred to his own experience of leading workers in a dispute last year with South Dublin County Council. He told delegates, “That’s why I’m glad to see that the Government is now in the advanced stages establishing new laws on collective bargaining. These laws will allow trade unions to represent members at the Labour Court where employers refuse to recognise unions, secure legally binding benefits for workers and provide robust anti-victimisation protections.
“This is good news for us all. The trade union movement has sought legislation on collective bargaining for more than a century, and we don’t have to look too far to see why it’s so urgently needed. An aggressive refusal to engage with workers is one of the features of the Dunnes Stores dispute” he said. Shane said he was proud to support Dunnes workers with other IMPACT colleagues during the recent one-day strike, and he urged delegates to join him to support the rally for Dunnes workers on 6th June, organised by the Mandate trade union.
Shane said that, two years on from introduction of the Haddington Road agreement, which he said had been challenging for every member of the union, there was a welcome sense of change. “Economic growth and falling unemployment are welcome signs of recovery. There’s also a welcome and growing pattern of modest pay improvement in the private sector. It’s a time for cautious optimism, as talks are now underway on pay restoration. We know those talks will be challenging, and it’s too early to say what will emerge from the process, but the fact that we are talking about pay improvement measures, after years of retrenchment, is very welcome.
“The very fact that talks about pay recovery are happening at all has provoked all sorts of noise, including ridiculous claims that public servants have a sense of ‘entitlement’ when it comes to pay restoration. I reject that claim entirely. We all work in services that are in greater demand with each passing year, and we have continued to meet the challenges that come with that. We’ve also fought to retain services within local government, and that challenge continues. Meeting those challenges, and sticking up for public services, is not about a sense of entitlement. It’s an expression of our commitment to the delivery of excellent public services” he said.
Shane told delegates that while the future looks brighter than it did two years ago, he still had concerns. “I don’t want to see the country return to business as usual as though nothing has happened. In the wake of the economic crisis, I think we all need to focus on the type of society we would like to live in. What type of environment would we like to raise our children in? How would we like to be protected, in the event that things went wrong and we found ourselves out of work, or we fall into ill health? I think we have a responsibility as trade unionists to explore these questions, and to highlight the role for high quality public services in response to those questions” he said.
Shane said the threat to public services posed by privatisation remains a major concern for unions. “As the recent dispute in Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann has shown, the privatisation agenda is alive and well. We must continue to be strong advocates for quality public services and oppose any attempts to privatise services. The legacy of the privatisation of waste services in Dublin is an increase in illegal dumping and incineration around the city, while the cost of the service continues to rise for consumers” he said.
The conference continues at the Clayton Hotel, Ballybritt, Galway, until Friday.