Unions set for critical talks on pay cuts

Make-or-break talks and crisis meetings will be held this week as protesting unions ratchet up their campaign against pay cuts.

The Frontline Services Alliance — representing 70,000 gardaí, nurses, and prison officers — will gather in Dublin for a mass rally this evening to spell out to Government the unsocial and dangerous nature of their job and demand “special” treatment.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter urged the two Garda associations to rejoin the Croke Park process, but both are determined to push ahead with limited industrial action this Friday by removing “goodwill” tasks they have traditionally provided.

The Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors will hold an emergency meeting with Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan on Wednesday to state their case and hear his response.

But the commissioner’s room for manoeuvre is limited given Mr Shatter’s insistence the Government has “obligations, imposed by the troika” to cut about €170m from public sector premium payments and allowances.

Meanwhile, the main public sector unions may have to decide by the end of the week whether to stay in the Croke Park process after they receive all proposals from Government regarding the cuts.

The Government wants to reduce double time on Sunday to time-and-a-half while abolishing premium payments for Saturdays and work between 6pm and 8pm, but has indicated some wriggle room.

GRA president John Parker said this evening’s rally in Tallaght, set to attract 2,500 representatives, had one main purpose: “We want to send a message to Government and management that they have to take cognisance that we are a 365, 24/7 group of workers and the dangers we face every day.”

He said premium pay for night and weekend work reflect the fact they are “intrinsic” to their job.

He said weekend nights were the “more difficult times” for gardaí, dealing with ugly and dangerous public order situations.

“They talk about average industrial pay, but we don’t conduct average industrial tasks. How many others put on a stabproof vest when they start their shift?”

He added: “We are saying to Government we are a special group.”

Seamus Murphy, deputy general secretary of the Psychiatric Nurses Association, said all members of the five unions had to work every second Saturday and Sunday, and nights every sixth week. “We can’t have a normal life. I understand there are other people working weekends, but by and large most people have Saturdays and Sundays off,” he said.

Mr Shatter said he was “as angry” as gardaí at being in such a financial situation, but urged representatives to stop “shouting from outside” and rejoin the talks.

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