Young workers hit by two-tier pay system

By Cllr Michael O’Brien

The pressure is building up for a restoration of public service pay after a succession of attacks during the economic crisis.

The Lansdowne Road agreement which was passed by the public service unions in May 2015 provided for an average restoration of about one third of the pay that was taken away from public servants in various guises, in several stages up to September 2017, with a fresh deal to be negotiated for the start of 2018.

Sharp edge of anger

However, since the Lansdowne Road agreement was passed the outgoing government beat the drum ever more noisily about the ‘recovery’. This, and a pick-up of pay demands in the private and semi state sector have together fuelled a desire for full and more rapid restoration for pay and conditions. However, the sharp edge of this mood can be located around the issue of the two tier pay system that the trade union leadership agreed to during the crisis, which has new entrants in the public service starting on 10% less pay than their senior colleagues. This issue was ignored in the Lansdowne Road agreement.

At the time that this sell out was pushed through there was a near complete recruitment embargo so it has taken a while for this to emerge as an issue, as new entrants have trickled into the system. The consequences of this betrayal of new entrants have been given major prominence recently, especially in the education and healthcare sectors.

Luas workers show the way

In the run up to the INTO conference, young teachers told their stories of being unable to make ends meet because of the combination of short hours and being on 10% less than their colleagues. Reference was made at the INTO conference by Socialist Party member and teacher, Kate Relihan, to how the Luas workers correctly voted down the offer made to them that involved the introduction of a two-tier pay system, and this was well received by young teachers.

Having sold out on the issue in the first place, the INTO leadership has been compelled to commit to seek an end to the two-tier system but only when the current Lansdowne Road deal expires at the end of next year.

Recruitment crisis in health

However, this passive stand of telling low paid new entrants that they have to endure this situation for more than a year and a half might be breached because of the pressures in the healthcare sector. Specifically there has been a procession of newly qualified nurses leaving the country and obtaining better pay and conditions around the world. The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland, in the last year responded to 19,000 queries from foreign health authorities seeking confirmation of the qualifications of Irish nurses who have applied for work.

The Irish Nurses’ and Midwives’ Organisation and the Psychiatric Nurses’ Association (dragging SIPTU which organises some nurses behind them) could, with a determined industrial campaign, achieve near immediate pay parity which in turn would serve to undo an amount of damage that is being done to the healthcare system because of the recruitment crisis.

If the nurses can achieve a breach of the Lansdowne Road agreement this could give an impetus to others to challenge the more passive stand being taken by their union leaders. The mood at the recent Civil and Public Services Union conference was already one of fighting now for restoration rather than waiting.