Feature Article
President Michael D Higgins celebrates creation of Fórsa
by Bernard Harbor

President Michael D Higgins celebrated Fórsa’s first national conference, and congratulated those involved in the “great task” of creating our “stronger and larger union.”

President Michael D Higgins celebrated Fórsa’s first national conference, and congratulated those involved in the “great task” of creating our “stronger and larger union.”
Speaking at the opening of the union’s delegate conference in Killarney, President Higgins said: “The amalgamation of the Civil and Public Service Union, the Public Service Executive Union and IMPACT has united over 80,000 members in a spirit of solidarity and comradeship.”
Recognising the contribution of public servants and their unions, President Higgins said: “Public sector trade unions have fought tirelessly, across the decades, for the achievement of equality and dignity for their members.
“You have played a significant role in the establishment of a wide variety of employment rights legislation creating an enhanced working environment for all our people, and fought discrimination in the workplace and in society.
“As public and civil servants, and as workers in strategic sectors of the economy, you are also at the very centre of three great challenges: mitigating climate change, welcoming and managing migration, and ensuring sustainable development.”
He said the battle for decent work would be among the defining struggles of the coming decades. “The success of the trade union movement will determine not just whether wages and salaries will be adequate to ensure that people can participate fully, with dignity and equality, in their society, but also whether the dignity of labour is upheld not only in the work-setting but in society.
“It will test the capacity of the trade union movement not only to organise previously unorganised, workers, but also to engage with new ideas and new practices. It will require the commitment and support of all members and those who support the extension and deepening of democracy in society,” he said.
As President, he had witnessed the “outstanding” work carried out by public servants across the country. “I have met with those whose lives have been immeasurably improved by our dedicated health service staff. I have witnessed, during the hazardous flooding that various parts of the country have experienced in recent years, the selfless response of local authority staff,” he said
“My work also allows me to regularly see the excellent work carried out by those public servants on an everyday basis who are not on the front line of service provision but who also bring to their work a dedication to public service across all areas of public life from tax administration to environmental protection, from social protection to enterprise policy,” he added.
A copy of the President's speech is available here.
A livestream of the President's speech to conference is available here (via Twitter)
Articles A
Fórsa welcomes SNA allocations
by Niall Shanahan

Fórsa trade union welcomed the publication last week of the SNA allocations for the 2018/19 school year.

Fórsa trade union welcomed the publication last week of the SNA allocations for the 2018/19 school year.


Fórsa represents 8,500 special needs assistants (SNAs) nationwide and the union said it welcomed both the allocation of 940 additional SNA posts and the timely publication of the allocations.


Deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan said “Above all we’re very pleased that SNAs now have certainty about the next academic year. I think it’s important to acknowledge that the minister stuck to his word on the timing of the allocations, and I trust this marks a new approach for the future.”


These developments follow a 2018 ballot for industrial action by Fórsa SNA members. The ballot followed four successive years where SNA allocations were published very late. In 2017 the allocations weren’t published until July, which meant that hundreds of SNAs finished the school year without knowing if they would have a job the following September.
Assistant general secretary Seán Carabini said SNA employment is more precarious than many other public sector professions due to the fact that SNA allocations are reviewed on an annual basis.
“When a school’s SNA allocation is reduced, SNAs lose their jobs. However, an SNA that loses their job can opt to be placed on the supplementary assignment panel and apply for other SNA posts that arise in their area,” he said.
Seán added “Today’s allocation announcement represents a significant victory for SNAs and demonstrates the power of collective action. It also sends a very clear signal that SNAs will not tolerate being treated in any manner that fails to give the profession its due respect.
“SNAs will continue to come together under the Fórsa banner to ensure that, in future years, the allocations process is both respectful and timely.
“We will also remain vigilant in advocating for the non-fragmentation of allocated posts. While additional posts are always welcome, the state must ensure that additional posts are, where possible, full-time posts to ensure that workers can earn a proper and decent full-time wage,” he said.


Download: SNA Allocation FAQs (prepared by assistant general secretary Seán Carabini)

Union fears blow to gender pay gap progress
by Bernard Harbor

Fórsa fears that legislation compelling employers to reveal details of their organisation’s gender pay gap is unlikely to be passed if the Government insists on publishing its own Bill, rather than amending an opposition Bill that is proceeding through the Oireachtas.

Fórsa fears that legislation compelling employers to reveal details of their organisation’s gender pay gap is unlikely to be passed if the Government insists on publishing its own Bill, rather than amending an opposition Bill that is proceeding through the Oireachtas.
The union said this approach was “at best a delaying tactic and, at worst, an attempt to kill this initiative.”
The Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2017 was accepted by the Government when it passed its second stage last October. If enacted, it would require medium and large companies to publish details of the difference in the average pay of their male and female staff.
But recent media leaks suggest that the Government now intends to draw up an alternative bill of its own.
Speaking at the Fórsa national conference in Killarney last week, the union’s equal opportunities officer Patricia Fanning said this meant the legislation was unlikely to become law before a general election, and would therefore fall.
“How long must women wait for measures which, though crucial, will only get us to the foothills of gender pay equality? The current bill has so far progressed through the Oireachtas with broad cross-party support.
“There has been extensive debate on the issue, including an official public consultation run by the Department of Justice and Equality last year. ICTU and Ibec have been liaising closely, and both support the principle.
“The Government can address any reservations it may have by amending the existing bill. Plans to go back to square one seem at best a delaying tactic and, at worst, an attempt to kill this initiative,” she said.
New legislation would require the minister to draw up heads of bill for Cabinet approval, before drafting legislation that would be subject to possibly-lengthy pre-legislative scrutiny. Only then could it begin its passage through the Oireachtas. The current Confidence and Supply arrangement between the Government and Fianna Fáil only runs to October’s budget.
Patricia called on the Government to continue its support for the existing Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2017, which is expected to move to committee stage before the summer recess.
“It’s over 40 years since equal pay legislation was introduced in Ireland but, on average, women here still earn almost 15% less than their male counterparts. Transparency in individual organisations would encourage further progress by shining a light on the causes of inequality and encouraging employers to address them.
“Employers’ bodies have been convinced that gender pay gap reporting is not a punitive measure. Rather, it’s a small but crucial step towards real action on Ireland’s stubborn pay gap. We’ve had the debate. We’ve pretty-much built a political consensus. Now it’s time for action, rather than dithering over the details that can be addressed through amendments,” she said.
A motion to the Fórsa conference called on the union to work to maintain the existing political consensus on the issue and develop guidelines on measures that employers could take to reduce and eliminate the gender pay gap.
Fórsa wants shorter working week for all
by Bernard Harbor

Delegates to Fórsa's national conference last week adopted a motion mandating its national executive to work with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and others to achieve better work-life balance through a shorter working week.

Fórsa has put its weight behind a campaign for a reduction in working time for employees in all sectors of the economy.


The union’s conference last week adopted a motion mandating its national executive to work with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and others to achieve better work-life balance through a shorter working week.


Germany’s largest private sector unions recently achieved working time reductions after putting the issue at the centre of its bargaining priorities.


Fórsa deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan said union members had only voted for the Haddington Road deal, which increased working time for many public servants, to avoid further cuts in pay and public services during the economic crisis.


“Now that circumstances have improved, the issue of working time is, just like pay, legitimately part of the restoration agenda,” he said.


Significant numbers of public servants – over 400 in the civil service alone – have opted to revert to pre-Haddington Road hours, with a proportionate reduction in pay, under a provision in the recently-adopted Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA).


Kevin said the issue would be a priority in talks on a successor to the PSSA. “We are currently in the fifth month of a three-year agreement, so our approach must be to shape the next bargaining opportunity, which could be two years away.


“And our strategy will have to be a national one based on the previously accepted and understood standard working week in the different sectors rather than any local arrangements that may have operated,” he said.

Employers must pay twice workers’ contribution to pensions
by Bernard Harbor

Fórsa has backed Government proposals for the introduction of compulsory – or ‘automatic-enrolment’ – occupational pension schemes for all workers, funded by contributions from employees, employers and the State. But the union said employer contributions must be double those expected of workers in order to provide decent retirement incomes at a cost all workers could bear.

Fórsa has backed Government proposals for the introduction of compulsory – or ‘automatic-enrolment’ – occupational pension schemes for all workers, funded by contributions from employees, employers and the State. But the union said employer contributions must be double those expected of workers in order to provide decent retirement incomes at a cost all workers could bear.
Speaking at the union’s national conference in Killarney last week, Fórsa national secretary Billy Hannigan said Ireland was one of only two OECD countries with no mandatory earnings-related pillar to complement the state pension. But international evidence showed that auto-enrolment would significantly enhance occupational pension coverage.
“Too many workers across the economy – especially women – are staring at poverty in old age. Up to 60% of private sector workers have no occupational pension coverage at all. Fórsa has members in the community and voluntary sector in the same position.
“We welcome the proposed system, which would provide mandatory pension entitlements for all workers wherever they are employed. But the employer contribution has to be twice that of the worker.
Since the 1990s, a large number of employers – including some very profitable companies – have simply walked away from their pension responsibilities. They created a new norm, where the full burden of providing an income for citizens in their later years, fell solely on the State and workers themselves. This scheme needs to roll that back and recreate a society where business makes its contribution too,” he said.
A conference motion tabled by Fórsa’s National Executive Committee called for mandatory employment-based pension provision for all workers not currently covered by occupational pension schemes, regardless of whether they work in the public, private, semi-state, or voluntary and community sector.
A February 2018 Government paper called ‘A Roadmap for Pensions Reform 2018-2023’ envisages the introduction of auto-enrolment from 2020. It says workers may be allowed to opt-out after a minimum period of participation. But Fórsa says any such opt-out must be time-limited, not least to guard against employers encouraging staff to opt-out in order to minimise their own contributions.

“It is difficult to see merit in a mandatory system which would allow easy or sustained opt-outs. Certainly, workers might want a limited opt-out facility during particularly difficult or expensive times of their lives. But the purpose of the scheme, which is to ensure adequacy of income in retirement, means the scope for opt-outs has to be limited,” said Hannigan.
He also said that the introduction of auto-enrolment should not be an excuse for dis-improving or shutting down existing schemes. “The purpose of the new scheme is to provide pension cover for those who have none, not to dis-improve existing pension cover for people who have it,” he said.
Billy also said that contributions to the scheme should be administered by the Revenue Commissioners to avoid excessive fees from private pension providers, and to ensure that monies are collected. “The new scheme is not being established to provide administration and fee-based income for private pension providers. It’s being established by the State to ensure adequate pension provision for citizens. The State should administer the scheme and the State should mind the funds,” he said.
Improved recognition rights sought
by Bernard Harbor

Fórsa is to continue its campaign for a right to union recognition in workplaces where staff want to be represented by a union.

Fórsa is to continue its campaign for a right to union recognition in workplaces where staff want to be represented by a union. Delegates at the union’s national conference last week backed a motion calling for a statutory guarantee on union recognition for collective bargaining.


The motion also called for referral to third party dispute resolution procedures to be provided where they’re needed.


Proposing the motion on behalf of the union’s executive, Fórsa National Secretary Angela Kirk said that, while recent legislation had improved workers’ right to representation, “it fails to fully facilitate union representation in the workplace.” Critics of the 2015 Industrial Relations Amendment Act say it fails to meet international standards on collective bargaining.


“Employers must respect the decision of workers who want a trade union to represent them in collective bargaining,” said Angela.

Fórsa audio bulletin episode 8
by Hazel Gavigan (audio editor)

This special episode covers the events of Fórsa's inaugural National Conference, including the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins' speech. Presented by Hazel Gavigan. 

Also in this issue
Union backs job evaluation expansion
by Diarmaid Mac a Bhaird
Fórsa has pledged to seek the introduction of job evaluation schemes in all relevant employments in the public service and elsewhere.
There were three motions on job evaluations which were adopted at Fórsa’s national conference in Kerry. Two of the motions called for the union to pursue job evaluations across the public sector, and the third called for them to be pursued within all the union’s divisions.
The union won the introduction of a job evaluation scheme for some health service grades after a long campaign and a threat of industrial action. The scheme has been in place since the end of last year and there has been huge demand, with hundreds of applications.
Fórsa representatives also recently met officials from the Department of Education and Skills to start talks on job evaluation in the higher education sector. The Labour Court asked the union to submit a ‘business case’ for the introduction of a local government scheme, while the union’s civil service division has also sought a scheme.
Job evaluation is an established tool that allows the knowledge, skills and responsibilities associated with individual jobs – rather than grades or staff categories – to be assessed and appropriately rewarded. While a job evaluation doesn’t guarantee an upgrading, it enables it to happen if the responsibilities of a job have increased enough.
Speaking in support of the motions, Fórsa national secretary Peter Nolan said the union wanted all its members to have the opportunity to have their jobs independently assessed, but said schemes would likely differ in details to suit the sectors and services concerned.

Further information on job evaluation is available here and here.

Housing crisis exposes lack of political urgency – Fórsa
by Niall Shanahan
Fórsa deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan told conference delegates in Killarney last week that the political system has failed to display a real sense of urgency when it comes addressing the needs of people experiencing or living under the threat of homelessness.
Kevin was speaking on a motion from the union’s national executive which calls for a range of emergency and constitutional measures to address the housing crisis.
Kevin contrasted the political response to measures introduced to deal with last month’s fodder crisis. “Year after year now, we await the same sense of urgency on the part of our politicians when it comes to citizens experiencing or living under the threat of homelessness – our fellow human beings,” he said.
The conference motion reflects the demands contained in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ Charter for Housing Rights, launched earlier this year.
Kevin said the issue goes right to the heart of the idea of the Irish Republic. “What’s the use of liberty and equality without the fraternity or social solidarity to go with it?” and said this is why a constitutional referendum to affirm the right to housing was needed.
Kevin said the founders of the State “possessed the necessary moral integrity, sense of purpose and strength of will to tackle even greater housing challenges when we were a foundling State alone in the world reliant solely on our own resources.
“In the cities slums were cleared and massive building programmes commenced that ensured local authority housing could be made available in practically every town, village and hamlet.
“This, in turn, ensured some level of affordability in the private housing market so that those on modest incomes could aspire to own their own home, in circumstances suitable for them to raise a family,” he said.
Kevin said many Fórsa colleagues and their family members are now unable to buy their first home, and struggle with excessive and rising rents, insecure tenancies and the spectre of eviction.
He said all of these factors motivated the union’s involvement in the Secure Rents campaign in late 2016.
“These concerns fade into relative insignificance when we witness the obscene consequences of homelessness – inadequate and inappropriate living arrangements, rough sleeping, people dying on our streets.
“It’s not as if the problem wasn’t foreseen – as far back as 1974 the Kenny report recognised the significance of land use policy as the key lever. It’s past time that this most basic natural resource – land – is made work for the citizen – and not the speculators, the hoarders and the profiteers,“ he said.
Kevin said Fórsa is proud to support the National Homeless and Housing Coalition and to promote the Congress Charter, and that the union will continue to work with a broad coalition to produce the political consensus necessary to end the crisis once and for all.
Early Years Professionals research call
Calling all early years professionals in Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Galway & Longford
by Colette Saunders

Hi, my name is Colette Saunders, I'm a member of the Early Education branch of Fórsa and I currently serve as the branch secretary. If you're an early years professional in Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Galway or Longford, I'd really like to talk to you as part of my research programme.


Let me tell you a little more about it.


I'm completing a masters degree by research at the Institute of Technology Sligo. The title of my research is ‘How do I improve my practice as a volunteer activist supporting trade unionisation of Ireland's Early Years workforce.’ 


At this point in my research, I'm seeking to interview early years professionals based in Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Galway and Longford. I'm starting the interviews in June, and if you'd like to take part you'll be helping to deepen my understanding of the early years sector in the region. In the longer term, I hope that my completed research will contribute to stronger organisation of the early years sector.


If you'd like to make yourself available for interview, I'll arrange it to suit your schedule. All the research data will be anonymised and kept strictly confidential. I'm planning for the interviews to take approximately 40 minutes.


We all lead increasingly busy lives, so I understand it's a big ask of you to give up your free time, but if you're up for taking part I'd love to hear from you.


To get in touch simply drop me a line at this email address. I look forward to hearing from you.

Conference charity cycle raises €20k
by Diarmaid Mac a Bhaird

Staff and members of Fórsa expect to raise a total of €20,000 for mental health and charities working on suicide on foot of the sponsored charity cycle to Fórsa’s inaugural national conference.


The figure includes a contribution from the union’s national executive, which has agreed to match funds donated by branches, members and staff.


Last Wednesday afternoon, the cyclists rolled into a sun-soaked Killarney, having set off from Limerick that morning.


The initiative was organised by Fórsa officials Éamonn Donnelly and Dessie Robinson. In previous years, the dynamic duo had organised charity cycles that raised over €130,000 in total.


Dessie was keen to thank everyone involved. “I want to offer a huge thanks and congratulations to everyone who participated in the cycle and everyone who donated from across the branches and divisions. It was an absolutely brilliant day, and we are delighted to be able to raise money for these fantastic regional charities,” he said.


The four charities that will benefit are: SOS (Suicide or Survive), which offers support to struggling young people in the capital; Jigsaw Kerry, a mental health support service for young people throughout the county; First Fortnight, another Dublin based charity that challenges mental health prejudice through arts and cultural action; and Limerick Suicide Watch, which identifies and provides support to those in distress in Limerick city.


The emphasis on mental health was mirrored in the conference hall, where most delegates wore green ribbons as part of the ‘See Change’ campaign, which is working for a cultural shift in the workplace so that employers and employees feel supported and secure in discussing mental health.


Dessie also thanked the union’s national executive committee for agreeing to match the total amount raised through donations from branches, members and staff. He said the proceeds would be divided equally between the four charities.

Fórsa publishes lobbying records
by Niall Shanahan
Fórsa is now registered as a lobbying organisation and has submitted the union’s first set of returns to the Lobby Register covering the period from 1st January to 30th April 2018.  
Lobbying organisations are required to publish their returns no later than 21 days after the end of the relevant reporting period.
The Regulation of Lobbying Act was signed into law in 2015.
Fórsa submitted 11 returns for the most recent reporting period. The deadline for submissions for this period expired on Monday (21st May).
The latest lobbying returns submitted by Fórsa cover the following matters:
Failure to submit a return of lobbying activities carried out during the period by the deadline is a contravention of the Regulation of Lobbying Act.
Enforcement provisions under the act came into effect last year, giving the Standards in Public Office Commission the authority to investigate and prosecute contraventions of the Act and to levy fixed payment notices for late filing of lobbying returns.

Fórsa members who undertake lobbying activity are not required to make a return unless they are lobbying under instruction from their union, such as in the event of a ‘grassroots’ campaign. For example, the Cork branch campaign on youth work services included an instruction to members to contact their local constituency public representatives seeking support of the campaign.
All lobbying activity undertaken by Fórsa staff is reportable, apart from activity classified as ‘excepted communications’ under the legislation.
For more details about the legislation and the register, visit lobbying.ie.
See also: Fórsa trade union profile page on Lobbying.ie.
Brexit threat to jobs and incomes
by Diarmaid Mac a Bhaird
Fórsa has renewed its commitment to tackle threats to jobs and living standards arising from Brexit. The union’s national conference in Kerry adopted motions on the issue from its Donegal Local Government and Sligo Health and Local Government branches.
Irene Tiernan from the Sligo branch said people in border regions were concerned because of the effect it will have on their everyday lives. “Many people working in my area travel across the border on a daily basis, and they are really worried about the prospect of a hard border,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of the union’s national executive, Fórsa senior general secretary Shay Cody said that the motions reflected concerns of people throughout Ireland. “The motions being proposed by the Donegal Local Government and Sligo Health and Local Government branches demonstrate the concern of people living in border areas,” he said.
Shay also committed to continue Fórsa’s close co-operation on the issue with the British Trade Union Congress (TUC), and Fórsa’s broader activity and lobbying on Brexit.
Last year, the union hosted two important seminars on Brexit. A national conference focussed on its impact on the food and agriculture sector, while an event in Donegal considered cross-border issues.