Next national agreement must prioritize the cost of living crisis Irish workers are facing – Fórsa

Ireland’s second largest union, Fórsa, is poised to demand wage increases that will exceed the rate of inflation in any new social partnership agreement, after members warned workers face an alarming inflationary attack on their living standards.

ne Fórsa branch is now demanding a 30 percent pay rise in the first year of any new national wage agreement.

The union, which opened its national conference in Kerry, warned that wage increases to cope with alarming rises in the cost of living will dominate the domestic agenda in the coming year.

The warning came as several other major unions warned that the government could face industrial action if workers’ wages are not increased to cope with rising costs for rent, food, fuel, clothing and childcare.

The union also warned the government not to take the lead on hybrid and remote work due to old and outdated ways of thinking.

Fórsa President Michael Smyth said the laws drafted in January effectively give employers a “right to refuse remote work” rather than giving workers the right to request it.

He said the pandemic presents a unique opportunity to “rebalance the economy by allowing good jobs to pour out of pressure cooker towns and has taught us that many office jobs can be done remotely, at least part of the time.”

“Politics should follow this trend and enable a new world of work. Let’s not fall back into a past that didn’t work anyway.”

“I think that’s the challenge and mission we have to face at this point in time to be leaders in a world of work that has completely changed.”

The union’s national executive will table a motion at the conference this week that the normalization of telework and mixed work will bring benefits for workers, employers and service users, while making a significant contribution to climate change, land use planning,
and urban and rural development.

Mr Smyth said the government had committed to working 20 per cent of public sector jobs remotely.

But the Fórsa boss said the union sees this “more as a floor than a ceiling” as employers are given far too many options to opt out.

“Therefore, this union, through the ICTU, continues to work on legislative changes to ensure a genuine right to apply for remote work arrangements, as well as an obligation for employers to demonstrate objective reasons for refusing remote work, a fair and robust grievance mechanism and strong worker protections in place for health care and
Safety, worker privacy and the right to separate.”

“Why should we mindlessly go back to clogging the roads between commuter towns and Irish cities with thousands upon thousands of private cars, needlessly burning hundreds of thousands of liters of fossil fuel and releasing thousands of tons of carbon into the atmosphere – just so someone can do work they might as well have
done at home or at a remote working hub near your home?”

He said the daily commute in and out of cities is an “antiquated” work pattern inherited from the last century.

“Technology and innovation have freed us from those obligations, so why resort to them thoughtlessly? The state can demonstrate a vision for other employers to follow, reaping the best of the remote and blended work experience.”

“We continue to urge forward-thinking on this issue and there is no reason the state cannot be the engine for best practice.”

Fórsa has over 80,000 members, making it the second largest union in Ireland after SIPTU.

It is the largest union in the public sector.

Mr Smyth’s comments came as Fórsa hosted its first in-person conference in three years, with over 700 delegates attending the three-day event in Killarney.

The motions for today’s conference program are dominated by wage and inflation issues.

The main motion of the Fórsa National Executive Committee said that the next national collective agreement to follow Building Momentum must prioritize the cost of living crisis facing Irish workers.

“The rising cost of living is now the number one bargaining chip for workers as persistently high inflation erodes purchasing power and living standards,” the NEC filing warned.

“Inflation is currently being driven largely not by demand but by costs, particularly rising energy prices. Workers are the victims of inflation – not the cause of it.”

“Most current collective bargaining agreements, including Building Momentum’s public service deal, have not kept pace with inflation, largely because they were negotiated at a time of economic uncertainty and low inflation, and there was no expectation of the sustainable cost of living that workers in all sectors are currently experiencing an increase.”

The union argued that most of the wage adjustments achieved since 2015 were aimed at restoring wage cuts imposed between 2009 and 2013 and were not adjusted for inflation, albeit relatively low, during that period.

Ireland’s public finances are now buoyant, with strong economic growth forecast by the EU and others.

“High and persistent inflation now threatens to undermine the credibility of the current civil service arrangement, which is essential to maintaining the security of public finances.”

Fórsa will today seek a mandate from its members to “priority to restoring and improving living standards over all other issues in the current round of wage negotiations in the public sector and elsewhere”.

It will seek to negotiate a progressive contract that favors lower-income workers who feel the effects of inflation most severely… and will work to ensure that contracts in the public sector and elsewhere reflect the reality of the cost of living
Crisis that is hurting workers, whatever sector they work in.”

More than a dozen motions at today’s conference call for wage increases.

The DSP Executive Grades branch wants salary increases in excess of inflation.

However, the Waterford Civil Service Bureau Division has warned that the erosion of living standards from inflation has been so great that it is targeting a 30 per cent pay rise in the first year of a new national wage agreement. Next national agreement must prioritize the cost of living crisis Irish workers are facing – Fórsa

Fry Electronics Team

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