Feature Article
Michael D to address Fórsa conference
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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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 civil 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 civil servants by removing two points from new entrant pay scales.

Fórsa wants pay scales shortened as quickly as possible for staff who joined the civil 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 civil 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 equality. “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 civil 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.

CWOs want emergency support clarity
by Bernard Harbor

Fórsa has called on the Government to give clear advice to older people and other vulnerable groups about the financial supports they can expect from community welfare services during extreme bad weather

Fórsa has called on the Government to give clear advice to older people and other vulnerable groups about the financial supports they can expect from community welfare services during extreme bad weather.


The union juxtaposed the Taoiseach’s recent suggestion that the budget for ‘exceptional needs payments’ was unlimited with figures showing a 93% fall in the monthly numbers of recipients since 2011.


Fórsa said confused official statements during the recent snow storms had fallen short of what’s needed to ensure that vulnerable people keep warm in the face of unseasonable weather. The union, which represents community welfare officers (CWOs), also demanded more investment in community welfare budgets and increased discretion for CWOs when vulnerable people seek their help.


The union criticised Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for suggesting that the budget-stretched community welfare service had unlimited funds to grant ‘exceptional needs payments.’ Rather, the number of exceptional needs payments has fallen by 93% between December 2011 and February 2016. Some 226,200 payments were made in December 2011, comparted to just 14,631 in February 2016.


The union said the social welfare department had directed people in need to the Society of St Vincent de Paul during the recent weather crisis. And it said CWOs discretion had been eroded since the service had been subsumed by the Department of Social Welfare in 2011.


Fórsa official Eugene Quinn said elderly citizens and other vulnerable people needed firm reassurance that they would not risk running up unpayable debt if they needed additional heating during cold snaps.


“Rather than bland assurances, we need a budget supplement to ensure that CWOs have extra funds to allocate in emergency needs payments. In the longer term, we must return to a position where CWOs have the discretion to make payments when they see an objective need,” he said.


Mr Quinn said the union had frequently voiced concerns about inadequate funding for community welfare services. “Local clinics have been closed and vulnerable customers must now mail or phone in their applications, or travel long distances to centralised facilities, which are mainly designed for employment supports. The discretion available to CWOs has been watered down considerably,” he said.


Call for relief on union subs
by Bernard Harbor

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.

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.

Breakthrough for Social Welfare temps
by Des Fagan

Following publication of our recent article about the union’s breakthrough on permanent contracts for temporary staff working on the public service card, Fórsa has been fielding queries from clerical officers

Fórsa has been fielding queries from clerical officers following publication of our recent article about the union’s breakthrough on permanent contracts for temporary staff working on the public service card. The union has invited non-members who are interested in joining Fórsa to seek clarity in relation to their rights and entitlements by contacting the union’s Membership Information and Rights Unit on 01-602-0202 or miru@forsa.ie


Three weeks ago we reported that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) had agreed to give permanent contracts to a number of temporary staff working on its public service card project. The breakthrough came after Fórsa won a number of cases on behalf of temporary clerical officers it believed should be on permanent contracts, or ‘contracts of indefinite duration.’


The union now wants to hear from those temporary clerical officers who want to have their employment status clarified. It has invited all temporary clerical officers to join Fórsa so that it can look into their cases.


Since 2012, up to 200 temporary clerical officers have been hired by the department to administer and process the Government’s public service card project. Fórsa has been working to ensure they receive the correct holidays and increments.


The union also sought permanent contracts in over 30 separate cases, many of which were successful. Fórsa officials have also met DEASP management to discuss the cases, which the union referred to third party adjudication.

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.

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.
Brexit to cost you €1,360 a year
by Diarmaid Mac a Bhaird

An ESRI report has found that households could face price increases of up to €1,360 as a result of a hard Brexit.

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.

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.

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 hosuing 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. The scheme is open to children of Fórsa members attending residential Irish language courses in Gaeltacht areas this summer.

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.
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.

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'.


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.

Unions raise collective bargaining at LEEF
by Bernard Harbor

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.

Commission blocks consultation rights
by Bernard Harbor

The European Commission has refused to back an EU-wide management-union agreement on information and consultation rights for civil servants. The agreement, which would plug a gap in EU legislation that excludes central government workers from EU consultation rights, was hammered out in December 2015.

Now the Commission has told unions and management reps it won’t bring the agreement to the European Council for implementation as an EU directive. As a result, almost ten million civil servants will continue to be denied information and consultation rights set down in European law.

The European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), which represents Fórsa and similar organisations across the continent, said the Commission’s refusal to act after employers and unions had reached agreement was unprecedented.

Fórsa deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan, who sits on EPSU’s executive committee, said the decision was an affront to workers’ rights. “Why should civil servants be denied the same EU legal protections that other workers have in the area of information and consultation rights? This is an attack on civil servants and it’s a bad day for transparent decision-making in the European Union,” he said.

Britta Lejon, who led the union negotiating team that reached the agreement, said the Commission had initially welcomed the deal. “This decision is extremely disappointing. Commissioner Thyssen informed us that an impact assessment of the agreement would be carried out. Since then it has moved from no transparency on the decision-making process to a rejection,” she said.

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.
Revenue round-up
by Tom Morrin

Fórsa’s Revenue Group Committee has established a sub-group to deal with the staff implications of Brexit. The group is made up of Rhona McEleney, national executive member, Hannah Duffy, Diversity and Youth Committee member, and Ronan Gill, Chairperson of the Dublin No.2 sub-committee.
Following on from the chairman’s recent email, the Revenue staff panel has agreed with the official side that the subject of restructuring and realignment will be a fixed item on the agenda at every departmental council meeting.
Meanwhile, the higher scales for the second half of 2017 have been published. They see 17 EOs, 14 AO’, and 16 HEOs awarded with higher scales by way of criteria or senior suitability.
And, since the last update, Michael Gladney has been appointed revenue commissioner. He succeeds Liam Irwin, with Joe Howley soon to take up the role as the collector general. We extend our best wishes to both and hope that our dealings with them will be beneficial to all.


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