Jack O'Connor: 'sharper conflict'

A "serious flashpoint" between public-service unions and the government has moved considerably closer after an "overly aggressive response" to the unions' campaign of action against pay cuts, Siptu leader, Jack O'Connor warned yesterday.

"The government's aggressive response this week to what has been a very mild form of limited industrial action will bring about a sharper conflict more quickly," said O'Connor, whose union will serve notice of action to begin across the public service on 1 February.

Most other public-service unions, including Impact and the nurses union, Inmo, will begin their action tomorrow while the CPSU, which represents clerical staff, has already been engaged in limited action last week.

The initial phase of action mainly involves non-cooperation with the transformation deal agreed last November but which subsequently fell apart when the government introduced public-service pay cuts.

O'Connor's comments come after it was reported that the government was considering discontinuing the facility whereby it collects union dues from public servants and passes them on to the unions. "This has been done before and all it does is make the unions stronger", O'Connor said.

"Certain elements within government are so drunk with the success of having secured two pay cuts that they cannot listen to advice when things go badly wrong. Their only option is to continue to wade through the blood," said O'Connor.

O'Connor said he felt that the unions' campaign would not be enough to bring the government back to the table and unions may need to consider strikes in critical areas for a long duration.

But the government's response at the weekend suggests that the current action is invoking a more aggressive response, he said. "It surprises me that elements in government would allow things to spiral out of control so quickly," said the Siptu leader who is also president of Ictu.

But O'Connor believes that a deal which would introduce radical change in the public service in return for the reversal of the pay cuts introduced this month is still possible.

"The possibilities of a deal are there but there is no evidence that the government want a deal at the moment," he said.

Meanwhile, transport minister Noel Dempsey, speaking on the air traffic controllers strike, said that the government may have to consider introducing a ban on strikes in such essential services.