PAUL MILLS: Unions shouldn’t look gift horse in the mouth

Whilst very many of us who reside in the volatile private sector are concerned, even angry, at the pay deal terms offered to the public sector, it is definitely not the time to be playing Russian Roulette with our future.

We can rant on about the difficulties that those in the private sector have to endure — the lack of job protection, the increasing use of unfair contracts compared to the myriad of benefits enjoyed by the public sector including pension arrangements that cannot and would not be sustainable for private sector employees.

The bottom line, trite and all as it might seem, is that we are where we are. There are no magic wands that are going to turn things around overnight. It’s a very simple fact, but the public sector needs the private sector and vice versa.

We must also accept that many within the public sector, particularly at the lower- paid administrative and other grades, suffered through the same austerity that affected the private sector. In a way the government has made some attempt to have an agreement that better supports those at the lower level. That is at least one good thing.

Sure it doesn’t address the issue of lower pay for new entrants which seems to be a problem for the INTO, who were hitherto within the Lansdowne Agreement. On the other hand, the ASTI seems to now wish to get back inside the tent. Perhaps it has recognised that Rome wasn’t built in a day and wishes to give itself the opportunity to fight another day. In any event there was only so much money to go around.

On Tuesday it was announced that Impact, one of the larger unions, was going to recommend acceptance of the agreement to its members. With any luck others will follow suit. I suppose one could argue that since nobody is really happy with the agreement it must be balanced and probably the best that could be achieved under the circumstances.

And the circumstances are still very difficult. In many ways we have come through a very bad economic downturn and have come through the other side relatively unscathed. Now is the time to consolidate our position and not seek to reinitiate all of the excesses that contributed to the severity of the downturn in the first place.

That is particularly important now. If anything, the world has become even more uncertain than it was a few weeks ago. The implications of Brexit are even more uncertain than they ever were following the British government’s failed attempt to increase its majority so that they would be in a better negotiating position.

In Ireland we have already seen the implications of Brexit. The recent UK general election debacle, rather than improve our position, has worsened the exchange rate between the euro and sterling — making Irish products more expensive. Any further lowering in the exchange rates will make Irish products, particularly food products, even more uncompetitive.

On Tuesday, Cork Airport managing director Niall McCarthy said a hard Brexit would be “catastrophic” for the tourism industry in Ireland and all stakeholders must push to ensure the “best possible outcome”.

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