TELEPHONES in all the Government departments went unanswered yesterday afternoon as public service unions ratcheted up their industrial action in protest at the pay cuts introduced in the last budget.
During last week the Civil Public and Services Union, the Public Service Executive Union and IMPACT trade union cut off contact between the public and a selection of departments as part of their campaign but yesterday afternoon was the first blanket ban.
Tom Geraghty of the PSEU said for the rest of this week the phone-ban would probably revert to selected Government departments but he did not rule out the possibility of a complete shut down once again.
Earlier, the public sector committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions met to discuss how the first five weeks of industrial action prompted by the December budget had gone.
They also discussed how they might escalate the action. It was speculated in advance of the meeting that a number of new disruptive tactics would be introduced from March 1. Those included limited work stoppages, a ban on co-operation with performance monitoring of staff and a limitation on the information provided to public representatives.
However, after a meeting lasting just over an hour, the committee decided it would not escalate action for the next four weeks and would not release any information on how the public would be disrupted at that stage.
Speaking on behalf of the unions, Tom Geraghty said the committee “identified various actions we could take which would escalate the effect of what we are doing”.
“We are of the view that we should give it four weeks before we get to a situation where this escalates to the point where it would significantly impact on the public,” he said. “The purpose of that would be to ensure that Government would avail of the opportunity to re-engage with us if that is their wish.”
He said unions were determined that any engagement would be meaningful and insisted that to date no such constructive dialogue had occurred.
“In the meantime the first phase of action will continue and will be escalated to some extent over the next few weeks,” he added.
If and when action does escalate, unions will have to decide exactly how it can be orchestrated in each department. A number of unions have expressed opposition to a ban on overtime work, while in education the concern is that stoppages of any length would mean teachers would lose the support of parents.
Next week, a ballot for strike action will be completed by the Civil, Public and Services Union which represents 13,000 low paid staff in the civil service. It is unclear whether the union will activate any strike mandate it receives before the expiration of the four-week window for talks with Government, agreed yesterday morning.
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