portlaoise shops and businesses could be further plunged into recession if the Croke Park II deal is voted through today, Tuesday, April 16, according to nurses in Laois.
The revision to the wage agreement for public sector workers, if passed, will see further cuts to wages and pensions but longer working hours. It is predicted to particularly impact on Portlaoise, as the majority of local jobs are in the public sector.
In recent weeks, close to to 250 of Laois’ public sector workers, including paramedics, nurses, midwives, psychiatric nurses, Gardaí and clerical staff, met in Portlaoise’s Heritage Hotel. Their unions explained why they believe the proposed deal has unfairly targeted Ireland’s 290,000 public sector workers, and called for a no vote, urging them to go back to work and inform their colleagues.
“The mood was angry, but most people were there to get further information,” said Joe Hoolan, secretary of the Laois branch of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.
He says Portlaoise would be pushed into a deeper recession if the deal goes through.
“This town is a public sector town. It has no large private industries. The high street is going to be affected. These pay proposals will be no means achieve €1billion in savings, it will have the opposite effect, further causing recession,” he said.
He maintains the deal is particularly unfair to those in the healthcare system, who are facing up to an 11 per cent cut in wages, and voluntary redundancies for anyone unwilling to relocate within 45km. The working week is being increased for no extra pay to 37.5 hours. Flexitime is also to undergo a review, and unsociable hours payments will be cut or abolished. Incremental increases will be frozen for anyone earning under €65,000, but those earning above that will only get temporary paycuts.
SIPTU, Impact, and the prison officer’s union POA are calling for a yes vote. who negotiated a deal to protect their premium payments, something Mr Hoolan claims the INMO were not permitted to do.
“We attempted to identify a range of areas where there is waste, but we were told they were interested in targeting pay alone,” he said.
“This is the biggest crisis ever faced by the Irish public sector, regardless of the vote, it will remain a big issue. If the vote is no, we will have to try negotiate a fairer deal, and the government are threatening to legislate a deal. If yes, it will lead to deep divides, with some cutting a deal, and the majority asked to live with it. That will be a huge problem,” he said.
Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan says he is conscious of the town’s dependence on the paypackets of local workers.
“I am acutely aware of the importance of public sector wages to the economic life of Portlaoise. I am hopeful that agreement can be reached by way of consensus rather than coercion,” he said.
At the recent Laois Chamber of Commerce AGM, he welcomed the Prison Officers Association’s acceptance of the deal, following renegotiation to protect premium payments for their members.
“I am delighted they are voting to accept what is a very difficult deal,” he said.