13,000 civil servants take to the picket lines

THE first strike in protest at the Government’s economic recovery strategy will today see 13,000 civil servants close dole and passport offices across the country and severely hamper most government departments.

The action by the Civil, Public and Services Union, while not sanctioned by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions executive, will give the Government a small taste of what could happen on March 30 if the rest of the public and private sector unions press ahead with a national strike.

The effects of the strike will be widespread. Even the National Museum of Ireland has been forced to close several sites tomorrow.

The Department of Social and Family Affairs confirmed that all local dole offices will be closed today, while branch offices operated by private individuals under contract to the department, will open as usual.

A spokeswoman said: “Over 1.3 million weekly payments are made to social welfare customers across all schemes, including jobseekers, one parent family payments, widows and pensioners. Following discussions with the CPSU, the union has indicated that every effort will be made to ensure that payments are not affected by this industrial action and they have informed their members accordingly.”

However, it said the loss of a full day’s processing time for a system as large the one it operates could lead to knock-on effects on processing and payment of claims. “The department will continue to monitor the situation and inform the public of the likely impact, if any, on services in the coming days,” it said.

CPSU general secretary Blair Horan said his members were pressing ahead with the strike because lower-paid civil servants cannot afford to have their pay reduced by 6% through a deferral of the pay deal and take an average pay cut of 6% on top of that with the pension levy. “Members stand to lose between e40-e60 a week that they simply cannot afford.”

The ICTU is adamant it will press ahead with strikes by all public sector and most private sector union members on March 30, if the Government does not sit down with the social partners to rethink economic recovery efforts. ICTU has said it is willing to discuss changes to September’s national wage agreement as part of those talks.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen warned that strikes and industrial unrest will “do nothing” to help the country. He appealed to workers not to engage in industrial unrest, while also suggesting he would be willing to engage with unions by resuming social partnership talks, if the conditions were right.

Mr Cowen said the best way of solving the crisis is “for everyone to get behind a comprehensive national effort on the issues”. He said the pension levy on public service workers (the main cause of the protests) will be part of a series of measures that will have to be made as the Government addressed the economic problem in a fair and equitable way.

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