Unions want to influence Government policy not just consult, says Fórsa chief

Callinan says exploratory talks on fall-out from nurses’ deal still ongoing

Industry Correspondent

Trade unions are seeking the opportunity to influence Government policy on a range of areas rather than just be consulted, the incoming general secretary of the country’s largest public service union has indicated.

Kevin Callinan, senior general secretary -designate of Fórsa described the current arrangements involving unions, employers and the Government as a box ticking exercise.

Mr Callinan told Fórsa's services and enterprises conference in Sligo on Thursday a key part of the vision for social Europe was effective social dialogue involving trade unions, employers and the Government.


"In Ireland in the last couple of years we have participated in a labour/employer economic forum that the Government created which meets quarterly and which is sometimes chaired by the Taoiseach and on other occasions by the Minister for Finance."

“There is one significant fault with that process, it is a consultative exercise where in large measure we get told about policy decisions that have been taken in relation to things like pensions, childcare and employment rights rather than a dynamic exercise where we can feed in and influence events in a real and meaningful way. That has got to change if we are going to see the kind of social Europe that trade unions believe in.”

Mr Callinan also said “exploratory” talks were continuing with Government following on from the recent nurse’s settlement on issues such as a mid-term review of the current public service agreement and the removal of the requirement for staff to work additional working hours. He said this process was continuing and was not yet at a point of conclusion.

Separately, the union's head of the services and enterprise division Angela Kirk said improvements secured by any group covered by the current public service agreement must be extended to all public servants, regardless of what sector they're working in.

She said recent developments such as the nurses’ settlement, which showed that the current public service accord was capable of dealing with claims by different grades of staff, were “ of keen interest to many members working in State agencies”.

At the conference on Thursday, Fórsa also criticised what it described as a lack of transparency in the Government’s Brexit plans, and said talks were needed to ensure continuity of services and job security.

The union’s services and enterprises division called for a “comprehensive dialogue” with Irish government departments in order to ensure a seamless continuity of services in the aftermath of Brexit.

The division represents around 7,000 workers in commercial and non-commercial semi-state organisations, as well as private companies in aviation and communications and community and local enterprises.

The division also represents workers in a number of North/South bodies created under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Division executive member Eugene Gargan said the Government's development of a Brexit response plan as "poor".

“While some contingency plans are drawn up, they’ve been developed under the pretence of ‘nothing to worry about, it’ll all be okay’. That’s not good enough. If there’s no engagement with stakeholders, there’s a risk that any plan will be unworkable. Any plans need to be published, tested and refined to make sure they stand every chance of success,” he said.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent