Union leader hints at radical action if talks fail

AS the Government prepares to introduce a new “environmental pillar” to the social partnership talks, one of the biggest players in those talks has warned that the budget may have scuppered its future involvement.

SIPTU president Jack O’Connor said his union had received significant contact from grassroots members angry, not only at the contents of the budget, but also of the unions continued participation in the talks.

“Whereas people did expect a very difficult budget and indeed a series of difficult budgets there are a number of aspects which are entirely unacceptable. Not least is the fact that, while middle and lower income people have been hit very hard, we also have an initiative which is, in effect, about the socialisation of the debts recklessly accumulated by the banks.”

He said any budgetary proposition which takes money from people who do not have enough to live on while going “relatively easy” on the wealthiest people in society was deeply unfair.

“There is quite a lot of criticism of our continued participation in the social partnership talks.

“We did undertake to revert after the budget and we will go through with that, but it is hard to see where it can go.

“If you look at the key issues on our agenda, one was a e1 billion job maintenance fund. It is hard to see how that can be achieved in light of the budget.

“It is hard to see how pension protection for private sector workers who have been paying into schemes all their lives is going to be put in place which is an absolute sine qua non as far as my own union is concerned and, I would say, that would apply to a number of other private sector unions as well.”

He also hinted that his union was prepared to take radical action if the talks failed.

“We did not have the problem that other unions had with the campaign for industrial action (which was due to see a national strike on March 30).

“It was overwhelmingly carried here. There was anger about the decision to defer the day of action on March 30. I would say by the degree of contact here, that is even more the case now.

“I think you are now talking about a pretty short engagement before you go onto decide what to do next.”

Meanwhile, the Government yesterday announced it has decided to establish a new environmental pillar in social partnership.

“This decision will ensure that environmental considerations are fully reflected in social partnership discussions and will add an important new voice to the process at this time of great national challenge,” it said. “The pillar will be represented by a range of environmental groups who operate at national level.

“Detailed arrangements will be the subject of further consultations with the existing social partners.”


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