Feature Article
Michael D to address Fórsa conference
by by Bernard Harbor

President Michael D Higgins will address the opening session of Fórsa’s first-ever national delegate conference, which takes place in Killarney in May. The conference will see hundreds of delegates, representing all the union’s branches, set policy and elect Fórsa officers for the first time.

President Michael D Higgins will address the opening session of Fórsa’s first-ever national delegate conference, which takes place in Killarney in May. The conference will see hundreds of delegates, representing all the union’s branches, set policy and elect Fórsa officers for the first time.


This is one of three Fórsa delegate conferences set to take place in the April-May period.


The Services and Enterprises Division conference takes place in Galway on 12th-13th April. Up to 150 delegates are expected, representing workers in commercial and non-commercial semi-state organisations and private companies.


Next, some, 650 delegates will attend Fórsa’s Civil Service Division conference, which is set for Killarney on 19th and 20th April. Then the full national conference, with up to a thousand delegates, takes place on 16th-18th May.


The two divisional conferences are taking place this year on an exceptional basis. That’s because they are the divisions directly impacted by the recent amalgamation, and they need to elect new divisional executive committees. All six Fórsa divisions will hold conference events in 2019.


Separately Fórsa’s Education Division will host a conference in Dublin on 5th April. This is not a formal policy-setting conference, but the division holds an event during each year’s education ‘conference season’ to explore policy and service issues.

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SNA contract information
by Sean Carbini

Fórsa official Sean Carabini responds to SNA members questions about their contract arrangements. In this edition he looks at lunchbreak entitlements.

Recently, a number of members from different parts of the country have sought clarification on the minimum entitlement of SNAs to breaks during their working day.


Section 2.5 of the SNA contract notes that breaks will be in accordance with the Working Time Act 1997. However, as to when breaks can be taken, the contract notes that the school principal will have discretion, a practical consideration with which we have no difficulty.


The Working Time Act says that, as a general rule, an employee is entitled to a break of 15 minutes after a 4.5 hour work period. If an employee works for more than six hours, the break entitlement rises from a minimum of 15 minutes to a minimum of 30 minutes.


So what does this mean? In practical terms, it means that if an SNA begins work at 9:00am, they have an entitlement to a 15 minute break at 1:30. However, the exact timing of breaks is something that should be decided locally, as ultimate discretion on the time at which a break starts belongs to the school principal.


Fórsa has been asked if the break times are ’owed’ back to the school. For example, if an SNA takes a 15 minute break, do they ‘owe’ that 15 minutes to the school? Must they extend their finishing time by 15 minutes?


The answer is no. There is no reason that this should be happening. It is not provided for in the Working Time Act and such a practice would certainly run against the spirit of the Act.


In summary:

  • What are my entitlements? 15 minutes after 4.5 hours, rising to 30 minutes after six hours
  • When can I take it? This is at the discretion of the principal
  • Do I have to add the time on to the end of my day? No

Section 2.5 of the SNA contract can be accessed here. Members should note that this is the only agreed contract. Members should contact their Fórsa branch or organiser if they are aware of any alternative contract or alternative contract wording being used.


Breaks should be a whole school matter. The vast majority of schools correctly allocate equal breaks to all of their staff.



Grasping the opportunities of a new university
by Kevin Callinan, deputy general secretary

President Michael D. Higgins signed the Technological Universities Act 2018 into law last week. The new legislation provides for the merger of existing Institutes of Technology and the creation of a new category of university, and has been broadly welcomed by the various institutes of technology. We could see the opening of the first technological university in 2018.  
What will it mean for the education sector?

The case in favour of the technological universities is that they’ll be in a stronger position to attract research funding and international students, as well delivering a bigger impact locally and nationally.
Minister of State with responsibility for higher education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor has said the legislation will underpin the development of a new type of higher education institution, "Building on the strengths and mission of institutes of technology to develop world class technological universities.”
Fórsa (and forerunner IMPACT) has been broadly supportive of the concept.
In 2016 our Institutes of Technology branch hosted a symposium at the DIT Grangegorman campus with a range of international expert speakers.
We could see the potential for strong regional development, employment opportunities and new opportunities for students looking at higher level education options. Our emphasis then was on reaching a unified position with other trade unions on the merging of the institutes, in order to ensure a more central role for unions in the merger process.
But we do have some concerns.
Regional vision
The legislation has its origin in the Hunt report, published in January 2011, in the dying days of the Fianna Fáil/Green Party government. The new vision that it promotes must not lose sight of the particular regional and social mission of institutes of technology (formerly regional technical colleges) or the importance of maintaining a relentless approach to securing regional employment. This was the promise made by then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, at the launch of the Enterprise 2025 strategy.
Some voices from the established university sector have suggested that the development will result in a ‘dumbing down’ of standards and the standing of Irish universities. This has been robustly dismissed by the minister.
The creation of a new type of university is bound to cause concern for existing universities, as it does significantly change the Irish university landscape. However, rather than being seen as a lowering of standards, the new legislation creates possibilities to expand the potential of our university sector.
I don’t think that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with a closer level of engagement between our education system and enterprise. It makes sense that there is a connection with the country’s enterprise, skills and innovation strategies. Equally, one of the strengths of the technological university will be a greater emphasis on leadership and the anticipation, identification and response to critical skills gaps.
Embracing change
It’s almost certain that the university of the future will not look like the university of the past, particularly if it is to have a key part to play in raising living standards.
The creation of quality employment, regionally spread and accessible to all - not just those with high Leaving Cert points - should form part of the vision for our country. The government has yet to realise the important role that the trade union movement can play in achieving this objective, but that has not deterred us from contributing to the necessary groundwork to develop a new type of university.
We represent the staff who will shape the idea into reality, and have ensured their voice has been heard at all levels as the legislation made its way through the Oireachtas. Our members working in the higher education sector can take justifiable pride in their efforts to fully realise this new development in higher education.
Quick fix sought for new entrants
by Niall Shanahan and Bernard Harbor

Fórsa wants pay scales shortened as quickly as possible for staff who joined the public service after January 2011.

Fórsa wants pay scales shortened as quickly as possible for staff who joined the public service after January 2011. The union has said a new talks process, agreed before Saint Patrick’s weekend, must lead to equal treatment for all public servants by removing two points from new entrant pay scales.


Under discriminatory measures announced by the then-Government in December 2010, it currently takes so-called ‘new entrants’ two years longer than their colleagues to reach the top of their pay scales.


Earlier this month the ICTU Public Services Committee, which represents almost all unions in the sector, secured agreement for new talks under a clause in the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA), which allows for an “examination” of the new entrants’ pay issue. This followed union representations to Government.


In initial discussions last October, public service management confirmed that 53,000 workers had been hired since lower ‘new entrant’ scales were imposed in January 2011. Management also acknowledged that unions had opposed the new scales, and had used the first opportunity available – the Haddington Road Agreement – to equalise the maximum points of the scales.


Fórsa senior general secretary Shay Cody said it was an issue of fairness and equity. “The main outstanding issue is the existence of two additional scale points for staff employed since 2011. That’s why we want to see the length of these scales reduced by two points as quickly as possible, in order to improve new entrants’ incomes and equalise the time it takes public servants to reach the top of pay scales,” he said.


Cody acknowledged that the different length of pay scales across the public service was a complicating factor, but said the talks process was capable of dealing with this. “We need to avoid a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that delivers fairness for some but not for all. The aim of this process must be to find a solution that works for everyone,” he said.


A Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) report published on 16th March found that some 60,000 ‘new entrants’ had been adversely affected by the unilateral cuts imposed in 2011, and that it would cost an estimated €200 million a year to resolve the problem.

Meetings eye new cross-divisional bodies
by Eoin Ronayne

Representatives from across Fórsa met for the first time last week to explore the potential for new cross-divisional, grade specific bodies called ‘equivalent grade committees’ or ‘professional committees.

Representatives from across Fórsa met for the first time last week to explore the potential for new cross-divisional, grade specific bodies called ‘equivalent grade committees’ or ‘professional committees.
Under the rules of new union, the National Executive Committee can approve the establishment of committees to bring together representatives from the same or similar grades. The aim is to co-ordinate and focus debate on issues of common interest.
Two committees are initially being set up: one for clerical officers and grade IIIs, and the second for executive grades, including grades VI-VII in health, local government, education and non-commercial semi state organisations.
A clerical officer/grade III seminar took place recently, where representatives from the CO grade in the union’s Civil Service Division met with grade III colleagues from health, local government and education.
Two days later the civil service executive grades (EO, HEO and AO) met with reps of grades IV-VII from health, local authorities, education and the non-commercial semi-state sector.
Both sessions heard presentations on pay and conditions and the current industrial relations issues specific to each grade in each division. These were followed by workshops, which considered how to build common work programmes for the grades and how the new committees might be structured after Fórsa’s first national conference in May.
The committees are expected to be important vehicles that will bring common purpose to members in particular grades in different divisions of the union, while helping to integrate representatives of the three former unions into the new Fórsa organisation
The groups are to meet again after the May conference to consider a draft written report drawn up by joint general secretary Eoin Ronayne prior to the report being presented to the incoming executive for discussion and action.
Call for relief on union subs
by Bernard Harbor

Fórsa addressed the Oireachtas Committee on Budgetary Oversight last week, and demanded the reinstatement of tax relief on individual workers’ trade union subscriptions.


Fórsa has demanded the reinstatement of tax relief on individual workers’ trade union subscriptions, which was worth €70 a year to union members when it was abolished in 2011.


Addressing the Oireachtas Committee on Budgetary Oversight last week, the union said the current approach to tax relief discriminates against PAYE workers because farmers, accountants, solicitors and other relatively well-paid professionals can claim generous tax relief on subscriptions paid to professional associations and the Irish Farmers’ Association.


Fórsa lead organiser Joe O’Connor told committee members that employers also receive full tax relief on their contributions to business lobby organisations like Ibec and ISME.


Many countries – including Germany, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Australia and Canada – give tax relief of trade union subscriptions.


“Irish trade union members get less favourable tax treatment than workers in comparable European countries, and the Government’s continued refusal to reinstate the relief here is perpetuating unfair treatment of PAYE workers when compared to farmers, self-employed professionals and even corporations.


“Reintroducing the tax break would be an affordable enhancement of income restoration, and a symbolic statement that unions and their members play a valued role in our society and economy,” said O’Connor.


Tax relief on trade union subs was introduced in 2001 after a long campaign by IMPACT – one of the unions that amalgamated to form Fórsa earlier this year. Initially worth €100 a year at the standard rate of tax, it had increased to €350 by 2008. This was worth €70 a year to trade union members who claimed the relief. The exchequer saved €26 million a year after it was abolished in Budget 2011.

Support for Trinity protest
by Bernard Harbor

The joint presidents of Fórsa issued a statement supporting recent student protests against extortionate repeat fees and other hidden charges on students at Trinity College Dublin.

The joint presidents of Fórsa issued a statement supporting student protests two weeks ago against extortionate repeat fees and other hidden charges on students at Trinity College Dublin.


The union also condemned moves to prevent student protesters from accessing food, water and toilet facilities, and called on Trinity management to refrain from disproportionate responses to legitimate student protest.


The full statement from Fórsa’s three joint presidents follows:


“Fórsa offers its full support to Trinity College students protesting at proposals to introduce extortionate repeat fees of €450 per module. The union believes this move, which follows the introduction of other hidden ancillary charges, is an unnecessary burden on students and a further barrier to poorer students attempting to gain a third-level education.


Fórsa believes that education spending is an investment - in citizens, society and the economy – rather than a cost, and calls for adequate public funding for higher education at Trinity and across the third level sector.


The union also condemns the college’s moves to prevent student protesters from accessing food, water and toilet facilities, and calls on management at Trinity to refrain from disproportionate responses to legitimate student protest.”


Pat Fallon, Ann McGee and Niall McGuirk, joint presidents, Fórsa trade union.

Fórsa backs national housing demo
by Niall Shanahan

Fórsa is mobilising members to take part in the Housing is a Human Right national demonstration on Saturday, 7th April.


The demonstration, organised by the National Homeless and Housing Coalition, will assemble at the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square at 1pm.

Fórsa is mobilising members to take part in the Housing is a Human Right national demonstration on Saturday, 7th April.
The demonstration, organised by the National Homeless and Housing Coalition, will assemble at the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square at 1pm.
Fórsa lead organiser Joe O’Connor explained, “Fórsa has been part of this coalition since its formation. The union is standing together with other unions, community groups, homeless advocacy organisations and service providers to raise our collective voice in this time of national crisis.
“While the country has managed to survive a dreadful economic crisis, the continuing problem of homelessness, and the shortage of housing nationally, is a stark reminder that our national recovery is far from complete. What we’re witnessing is a housing emergency that demands immediate action,” he said.
Joe said Fórsa branches across the country are now mobilising members locally to take part in the demonstration. “There is a real opportunity here for members to add their voice to the campaign, and I would urge as many people as possible to take part on April 7th.”
  • Declare the housing and homelessness crisis an emergency
  • Provide a minimum of 10,000 public housing units per year on public land
  • Make housing a constitutional right
  • End evictions, bank repossessions and sell-offs to vulture funds
  • Legislate for security of tenure, real rent control and affordable rents
  • End B&B and hotel emergency accommodation, and improve emergency accommodation facilities.
Follow the campaign:
Transport from Cork
The Cork branch has arranged transport for all Fórsa members in Cork to travel 7th April. The bus will leave Cork at 8:00am sharp from South Mall, outside the Imperial Hotel, arriving in Temple Street, Dublin for 12.15pm to liaise with Fórsa representatives and to collect Fórsa placards, banners and flags. The bus will leave Dublin at 4.30pm sharp from Parnell Square for the return journey. Please contact Donal Guerin by Monday, April 2nd to reserve a place.
Fórsa audio bulletin episode 4
by Hazel Gavigan (audio editor)

We look at the main stories in the current edition of the news bulletin. Presented by Hazel Gavigan and Niall Shanahan


Also in this issue
Gaeltacht scholarship grants
by Niall Shanahan
Applications are now open for the 2018 Fórsa Gaeltacht grant scheme. 80 grants of €150 each are available to assist children of Fórsa members attending residential Irish language courses in Gaeltacht areas this summer.
A further 40 grants of €70 are available to assist children to attend day-only Irish language courses held outside Gaeltacht areas.
Children of Fórsa members, who are aged between 11 years and 18 years of age on 1st July 2018, are eligible to apply for the grant scheme.
An application form is available here, and includes the full terms and conditions of the scheme.
Fórsa members call #Brexitshambles
by Niall Shanahan

In the last news bulletin we asked your opinion about a new report which said Brexit will hit the Irish economy more than any other country in Europe, with a ‘hard Brexit’ costing the country about €18billion.


The message to the UK government from those who took the survey was very clear, with 65% saying Theresa May’s government needs to swallow its pride and find a way out of Brexit.


The possibility that Brexit will cost even more than estimated in the report by Copenhagen Economics was highlighted by 20% of respondents.


Those that thought the €18bn was an overstatement, and that there’s still time for the EU to negotiate a less harmful deal, accounted for 15% of responses.


Last week the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) published research that said Brexit could cost Irish households up to €1,400 a year on average as prices rise, with lower income families faring the worst.




See also: Brexit to cost you €1,360 a year 



Union firms more likely to raise pay
by Bernard Harbor
A far higher percentage of unionised private companies will increase pay this year when compared to non-union firms, according to a new study. The annual private sector pay survey, produced jointly by Industrial Relations News (IRN) and the CIPD, found that 72% of unionised firms expect to raise earnings in 2018, compared to just 49% of non-union firms.
The study also found that the number of private sector companies that increased pay in 2017 was significantly higher than the number who said they would at the beginning of the year. It found that 68% of firms raised pay in 2017, while only 50% had said they expected to do so at the start of the year.
Almost two-thirds said labour market pressures and skills shortages were driving their pay policy. No respondent cut pay over the last 12 months.
The survey found that 56% of firms expect to raise earnings in 2018. But, unveiling the results at the IRN annual conference earlier this month, CIPD director Mary Connaughton said the actual figure could again be higher.
The average 2017 pay increase in the 356 companies surveyed was 3.15%, compared to an average projection of 2.5% at the start of the year. Virtually all firms said increases would be contingent on performance and ‘normal ongoing change,’ while 12% said specific workplace changes would be required.
A significant 46% of firms said they expect to recruit extra workers this year, while another 45% said they would maintain current staffing levels.
Gig economy presents taxing challenge
by Bernard Harbor

Substantive aspects of employment law need to be reviewed to protect workers in the so-called ‘gig economy,’ but reform of social welfare and taxation policy is a bigger issue. So said Jeremias Prassl of Magdalen College, Oxford, who spoke at the prestigious Industrial Relations News conference on 8th March.


Confronted with zero-hour arrangements, bogus ‘self-employment,’ and other new forms of work organisation, Professor Prassl said unions had to address the limits of laws on unfair dismissal, minimum wages, and qualifying periods for job protection.


But he said tax was a bigger issue because the so-called gig economy was luring people away from standard employment relationships by offering them a “no income tax” proposition.


Stephen Holst of legal firm McCann Fitzgerald agreed, saying that at least €60 million was lost to the exchequer through the false classification of work as self-employment. This is because self-employment allows companies to avoid paying employers’ PRSI, while workers could avoid tax.


He said such arrangements could initially be attractive to workers, but were less so when they needed PRSI-related benefits like maternity leave, pensions and social security. He said tax and PRSI reforms “could be the biggest driver of change, even though it seems quite boring.”


Prassl said there was evidence that the ‘gig economy’ was causing huge tax losses in other jurisdictions too. And he said moving workers out of the PAYE system meant they carried all the burden of tax compliance.


He said it was possible to address the problem because all the data about who works, who for, and for how much, existed on the platforms – like Uber and Deliveroo – that typify the ‘gig economy.’


Prassl said unions should tackle these aspects of the changing economy while embracing technology and innovation. He said we should avoid “falling into a crazy Luddite trap” because, over the centuries, technology had never destroyed the net amount of work, but had made it “better, safer, and more fun.”


He said unions faced a practical challenge to develop services that gig workers want. But reaching and communicating with them was doable because they are among the most IT and social media literate.


He said even some employers in the sector now saw the value of basic standards and workers’ representation.

Unions raise collective bargaining at LEEF
Fórsa deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan was part of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) delegation when Leo Varadkar chaired a meeting of the Labour Employer Economic Forum (LEEF) last month. Kevin, who is a vice president of ICTU, was accompanied by ICTU president Sheila Nunan, general secretary Patricia King, and assistant general secretary Owen Reidy.
Established in 2016, the LEEF is a forum for dialogue between Government, unions and employers.
An Taoiseach was joined by ministers Paschal Donohoe and Heather Humphreys, and by minister of State Damien English as well as an array of senior officials. Employers were represented by Danny McCoy and Maeve McElwee from the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (Ibec), Tom Parlon of the Construction Industry Federation, and Ian Talbot of Chambers Ireland.
At the outset An Taoiseach indicated that the achievement of the Government’s objectives would benefit from consultation with unions and employers. Later in the meeting he referred to the fact that the country was entering a different phase and that certain senior officials would be asked to liaise with the social partners to see what structured dialogue might look like.
The meeting agenda consisted of an update on Brexit developments and a presentation by Paschal Donohoe on the Project Ireland 2040 plan. During the exchanges that followed the ICTU members pointed to the all-island nature of Congress and pressed the importance of measures to protect vulnerable workers and regions from the effects of a hard Brexit.
Kevin took the opportunity to raise the failure to include ICTU representation on the governing bodies of the proposed technological universities. And he linked the vision for our country post-Brexit to the debate on the future of Europe, arguing that mature social dialogue was just one element of a fair society that also needed to include collective bargaining rights, an effective social protection safety net and quality public services.
At the conclusion it was agreed that the next LEEF meeting would deal with the issue of pensions in addition to the standing agenda item of Brexit.
Speaking after the meeting Kevin said: “There appears to be a change of heart on the part of the Government in relation to social dialogue. It is too early to say if this is genuine or whether it will be possible to develop a useful engagement. For the process to be worthwhile it will have to show that it has the capacity to advance issues like affordable housing, SláinteCare, childcare provision and costs, occupational pension coverage and employment rights. We are a long way from that yet.”
In the margins of the meeting, Paschal Donohoe confirmed that he would accept an invitation to address and debate with the ICTU Executive Council. That meeting took place last Wednesday (21st March) in the Fórsa offices at Nerney’s Court.
Brexit to cost you €1,360 a year
by Diarmaid Mac a Bhaird

Households could face price increases of up to €1,360 a year as a result of a hard Brexit, an ESRI report has found. It estimates that cost increases for households could range between €892 and €1,360 a year, depending on post-Brexit trade arrangements between Ireland and the UK.

The ESRI looked at how different tariff and non-tariff costs would impact on family budgets. It found that an increase in non-tariff trade costs alone would cost families €892 a year. But increases in tariffs and other trade costs could push that as high as €1,360 or more.

The estimated price increases are the equivalent of between 2% and 3.1% in the consumer price index (CPI), our standard measure of inflation.

Some of the highest price increases would hit products like milk, cheese and eggs, with costs rising by as much as 40%. Cereals, bread, meat, sugar and tea are among other items that could increase by 20-30%.

And lowest earners would be hardest hit because low-income households spend relatively more on food and tend to buy more of the items subject to the biggest price increases.

The report also notes that significant attention has been payed to the potential ramifications of Brexit for Irish exporters, but not on the ramifications for prices on imported items. UK imports into Ireland made up 28% of total imports in 2016.

Read the report HERE. You can also find more information HERE and HERE.

Ratification of UN convention a step forward for workers with disabilities
by Niall Shanahan

Fórsa welcomed the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disabilities. The convention was ratified by the Dáil on 7th March. 
The UN convention protects equal treatment for all people with disabilities with respect to human rights and fundamental freedoms. The convention was adopted by the UN in 2006. Ireland is the last of the 27 European Union states to ratify the convention.
Fórsa’s head of division for Civil Service, Andy Pike, said: “The convention makes absolutely clear that persons with disabilities are citizens with the right to fully participate in all aspects of society.
“This is particularly relevant to the employment of people with disabilities. The latest CSO figures show that 6.5% of the Irish workforce identify as having a disability. The real figure is likely to be higher as a result of under-reporting,” he said.
Mr Pike added, “Now that the convention has been ratified, we will press the Government to implement the convention in order to maximise the support and representation available to workers with disabilities.”


Fórsa is calling on the Government to introduce the following measures:

  • Provide meaningful employment opportunities for people with disabilities to enter the workforce
  • Establish new specific employment supports, such as job coaches and mentors, to assist people with disabilities to find jobs and remain in the workforce
  • Ensure that employers abide by their obligations to facilitate the employment of people with disabilities, and their obligation to make reasonable adjustments to the working conditions of an employee with a disability
  • Examine ways to maximise the potential for people with disabilities to be adequately represented in senior posts across the public service.