Lansdowne Road – another straightjacket for workers

Not long after the crisis hit in 2008, the Government introduced the “Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act” or ‘FEMPI’ (“FEM-pee”). When the Act was amended in the Dáil in 2013 to enable the Government to unilaterally cut the pay of public sector workers, Richard Boyd Barrett TD attempted to have it renamed the FEMBI Act, i.e. Financial Emergency Measures in the BANKERS’ Interest Act — to more accurately reflect in whose interest the legislation was really being introduced.

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Mark Walshe, ASTI Fightback

Not long after the crisis hit in 2008, the Government introduced the “Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act” or ‘FEMPI’ (“FEM-pee”). When the Act was amended in the Dáil in 2013 to enable the Government to unilaterally cut the pay of public sector workers, Richard Boyd Barrett TD attempted to have it renamed the FEMBI Act, i.e. Financial Emergency Measures in the BANKERS’ Interest Act — to more accurately reflect in whose interest the legislation was really being introduced.

But the leadership of the trade union movement actually welcomed FEMPI. Instead of acting on a motion passed at the ICTU Biennial Conference in Belfast in 2013 to campaign vigorously against it, they used FEMPI to coerce their members into accepting the Haddington Road Agreement (HRA). The line from the General Secretaries of the teachers’ unions in particular was you either “vote for HRA or vote for FEMPI.”  So any union attempting to break out of ICTU’s prison of Social ‘Partnership’ was eventually locked up again.

Now the Government wants to start the process of ‘unwinding’ FEMPI to give back some of the money that was taken from workers using FEMPI. With the General Election on the way, it’s obvious that the Labour Party in particular wants to try to shore up its plummeting support among the workers it claims to represent. Another reason the Government is moving to ‘unwind’ FEMPI at this point is because it fears a union may take a legal case to have the entire FEMPI Act repealed in one fell swoop —exposing it to having to reverse all of the pay cuts. As Martin Wall reported, “a big fear was that a court could rule that the financial emergency legislation was no longer valid given the surge in the economy.” (Irish Times, 30/10/2014).

In that context, the trade union leaders could have decided to do what Howlin feared and take a legal challenge. Instead, they chose to continue their collaboration and help the Government to unwind FEMPI gradually. They negotiated the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) and the larger unions have lost no time in recommending that members accept it.

LRA seeks to entrench public sector ‘reform’ by ensuring that there is no relief from the extra working hours imposed by Haddington Road and that these extra unpaid hours actually become permanent for all public sector workers. By 2018, the paltry pay restoration promised in the agreement will leave workers well below what we were earning ten years earlier in 2008 — and even further below what it would have been had we been compensated for the unpaid extra hours in HRA.

Most seriously of all, LRA demands that we agree that FEMPI will remain in place until 2018 at the earliest: “The Parties note that, notwithstanding the improvement of the country’s fiscal position, the legislative constraints imposed on public service employers under the financial emergency legislation will continue to be the context for pay determination during the lifetime of this Agreement.” (5.5). In other words, the Government intends to retain the right to unilaterally cut our pay for at least the next three years.

In addition the Lansdowne Rd Agreement quietly signs the trade union movement up to working with Irish Water.

Many of the larger and more influential unions in ICTU are okay with that — indeed they’re in favour of it. We can be confident that there will be no end of bluster and rhetoric against FEMPI at the upcoming ICTU Biennial Conference in Ennis (7-9 July) but the reality is that, in negotiating the LRA, ICTU unions have negotiated an extension to FEMPI and the extra free ‘productivity’ in HRA.

Members in all unions should campaign vigorously for a No vote to LRA as a first step in trying to break out of ICTU’s Social ‘Partnership’ prison.

For the full text of the agreement go to http://www.impact.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/LRA1.pdf. The reference to Irish Water is in Section 3.2.

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