Brendan Ogle: penal tax rates

Public sector union leaders have privately conceded that pay cuts are inevitable in the forthcoming budget.

Despite the success of Friday's protest marches across the country, details of the public finances presented to the unions in talks last week have convinced many of their negotiators that it will be next to impossible to avoid pay cuts next month.

The real aim now is to protect pay, jobs and public services beyond 2010, one union source admitted last week.

Union leaders involved in the negotiations are bracing themselves for a backlash from their members and from other unions as a result and are desperately trying to convince Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and Taoiseach Brian Cowen to 'sugar the pill' in next month's budget in order to avoid a winter of discontent.

Criticism of their approach to the negotiations has already come from Brendan Ogle, regional organiser of the Unite trade union in the ESB, who has called for a national strike to secure a reformed tax system hitting high earners and to "show that the days of cosy consensus" with government are over. Writing in today's Sunday Tribune Ogle launches a scathing attack on the government, bankers and those union leaders on "six figure salaries" who he says "are not known to the bulk of their members".

The Dundalk-born former train driver, who led a 10-week rail strike in the summer of 2000, said a "broader and more just tax base" must be a core demand of a national strike.

"This should include penal tax rates for those earning €200,000 and the closure of tax loopholes for the super rich. If they leave, good riddance. Rats often leave a sinking ship."

Such a strike would allow unions to "set the agenda as to how we want our society to move out of this mess and to do so in a way that is more economically sustainable without sacrificing important social values," he said.

Accusing the government of creating a "vacuous public versus private debate" with the aim of turning worker on worker, Ogle said it was "time for those who fund this country through their taxes to wrestle control back for now and forever".

Although some union leaders have resigned themselves to pay cuts in December's budget, Wednesday's protest by nurses, guards and other frontline public service workers, as well as the national day of protest on 24 November, will go ahead. These will allow union members to vent their anger at the government, one source said.

Talks between the unions and the government resume this week but little progress is expected.

Although Taoiseach Brian Cowen has talked about reducing public service numbers in lieu of a pay cut, only 5,000 public servants are due to retire next year.

Even if none of these are replaced, this would still only cut around €270m from the payroll - nowhere near the €1.3bn cuts the government says is required.