Unions at semi-state companies angry over move to cut wages

GOVERNMENT ministers have upped pressure on the semi-state companies, such as ESB, CIÉ and Bord Gáis, to slash wages and help lower the cost of living nationally.

However, trade unions have warned that their members will fight any attempt to unilaterally cut the wages of the 48,000 employees of the commercial semi-state companies.

Today, the Cabinet is expected to discuss the running costs of the semi-state companies in a drive to extend the effects of the public sector pay cuts.

This was signalled by Taoiseach Brian Cowen and three other ministers yesterday, when they effectively asked the bosses of these companies to reflect on their wage levels.

During a visit to the North, Mr Cowen said the semi-state employers needed the same “discipline” as private sector employers who made cutbacks in order to preserve staff numbers, but each company would have different requirements.

Transport minister Noel Dempsey said all commercial semi-states had to operate commercially. And, while he said it was a matter for the individual boards of the companies involved to decide their strategy, there must be a drive to improve competitiveness by lowering the costs of doing business.

In Cork, Health Minister Mary Harney said the semi-states had to be conscious of their role in keeping the cost of living low.

“Clearly I think we’ve all got responsibilities, whether we’re in the public sector or the private sector to be seen to reduce the cost of the services we provide for our customers and, in the case of many of the semi-states, because they provide utilities to households and to companies.”

Earlier Communications Minister Eamon Ryan said there was no “one size fits all approach”. It was an issue the Cabinet wanted to look at during today’s meeting.

However, the trade unions reacted angrily to the Government’s opening salvo.

Eamon Devoy of the TEEU engineering and electricians’ union said the mention of commercial semi-state wage cuts, flown first by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan on Sunday night, was “intolerable”.

Willie Noone, SIPTU’s organiser at CIE, said semi-state employees had already taken a substantial hit in terms of numbers and entitlements. He said the Government should leave such discussions to established industrial relations mechanisms which were working.

“We have already agreed a cost-cutting plan with Dublin Bus in which we have taken considerable pain while we have reached agreement with the management of Irish Rail on many different occasions at every level. That is the way we will continue to negotiate on behalf of our members,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Finance confirmed all public sector workers who are expecting natural pay-rises related to annual increments will have those commitments honoured.

This will cost in the region of €230m.


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