Public Affairs Ireland | Training and Development | Conferences

Yesterday, Thursday 19 May 2016, IMPACT trade union’s conference took place. At it, its members voted overwhelmingly in favour of continued talks on a possible merger with two other trade unions. This would create a new union with somewhere in the region of between 80,000 and 90,000 members. The unions involved are IMPACT, CPSU and PSEU. This new union, ostensibly being called the “New Union”, would represent workers in the public service, commercial organisations, and state agencies. IMPACT general secretary Shay Cody said that this new union would assuredly be “democratically accountable and better able to defend and advance our members’ interests”.

Separate ballots at both the CPSU and the PSEU conferences will follow successful negotiations between the three unions.

What do these unions do?

IMPACT:

IMPACT is a 60,000-strong union representing those in various “public service occupations, grades and professions in health, local government, education, the civil service, and voluntary and community organisations”. There is also some representation of workers of semi-state organisations.

CPSU:

The Civil, Public and Services Union has around 12,000 members mainly composed of those in the civil service “and a small number of Agencies and Semi-State and Private sector companies”.

PSEU:

The Public Service Executive Union represents staff in “all Government departments and some commercial and non-commercial State agencies. The union presents staff mainly in the executive, junior and middle management grades”.

How and Why?

A conference paper entitled “The New Union Project” was circulated yesterday; it outlines the structures that have already been laid down, plus a rationale and roadmap for progression.

The report begins by laying out the landscape for those in the public service, following the crash. “We have seen, in this country, however, that the moment there was a setback to growth, the price was paid by workers.” This is true especially of public sector workers. The report comments pf the “demonisation of public servants amongst the media, and in some political quarters”, despite the grave sacrifices made. Following this, the disparate unions had a hard job of clawing back what was taken when the growth restarted.

So, then, a new union is proposed. The report states:

“A New Union offers the potential to harness the numerical and intellectual strength of the members, activists, officials and leaders of CPSU, IMPACT and PSEU, into one, single, union for the majority of the Civil Service, for some state bodies and as a part of a broader public service organisation.”

The “coming together” of these unions was “strongly recommended” by the ICTU in the 2013 port of the Commission on the Irish Trade Union Movement.

In the main, the report seems largely concerned with reassuring current union members that the histories and unique identities need not be a reason for major concern. It notes, “the challenge is in determining if the histories and sense of identity can be merged to create a new narrative and new prospects”. It calls into recollection the 1990 merger of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union and the Federated Workers’ Union of Ireland: now SIPTU, Ireland’s largest (and arguably, strongest, trade union). Germany’s ver.di is also mentioned, “as a large union speaking for public servants [that] is a major force in that society”.

How will it be set up?

In the New Union, there would still be divisional structures for various sectors, but all grades would be under the one trade union umbrella. Within this large union, “no one sector could have a majority or a dominant voice … this simply won’t be possible under the rules of the plan that is under consideration”. Also, independent ombudsmen are proposed, to deal with complaints from specific groups. Each division would decide on policy within their division.

Regional offices would be established. The New Union would also contain a dedicated communications unit, a training unit and a research capacity.

But on the whole, they are a whole, single body. The clout that this would bring is considerable, according to the report. With it, when faced by possible future threats to their pay or work conditions, they could “beat them back with a united front, one with over 80,000 members backed by staunch activists, officials, and leaders”. They could see the benefit of “expanded legal services and improved IT services”. In financials, too, the size is important. The report notes that “Size does matter when it comes to financial strength. Deeper pockets, with the finances managed prudently, wouldn’t go unnoticed on the other side of the bargaining table.” However, the super-union is committed to no member seeing a raise in their subscription price. They also allude to the provision of better member benefits.

A National Executive Council would be established, made up of 27 or 28 seats, a Union president and up to four vice-presidents. There is an aim to ensure each of the five divisions will be represented in these seats. The suggestion is as follows:

  • Six seats for the Civil Service
  • Six seats for Health
  • Four seats for Local Government/Municipal
  • Three seats for Education
  • Three seats for State Agencies/Private Services.

This would be reviewed after some time.

They also propose the establishment of Equivalent Grade Committees; one, for example, for clerical grades, one for executive grades and one for any other interested grades.

There is a proviso that union representative structures would have to be reconstructed within the New Union.

The end of the report stresses the democratic model it will follow in the talks for the merger. Ballots will take place, and members will ultimately decide. Communications regarding the discussions will be made available when and where appropriate.

It is expected that the final vote on the establishment of the New Union will not take place until 2017.

You can find the conference paper here.

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