Ballot for Industrial Action
Building Momentum: Review of Pay Terms
Information for Fórsa Members
Introduction: Strength in unity
Fórsa and other unions affiliated to the ICTU Public Services Committee have agreed to conduct ballots for industrial action as part of a coordinated campaign to improve public service pay against the background of high and sustained inflation.
Each individual union is obliged by law to conduct its own ballot of members. But this coordinated campaign, by unions representing over 90% of Ireland’s public servants, unites and amplifies our voices and gives us added strength in our determination to beat the cost-of-living crisis.
This short document sets out the reasons for the ballots and what they might mean to you, your income and the services we provide to the public.
Why are we balloting?
Our objective is to secure an acceptable review of the pay terms set out in the Building Momentum public service agreement. The ICTU Public Services Committee triggered a review clause in the agreement in early March 2022, with a view to gaining significant improvements in pay to take account of higher-than-expected inflation in 2021 and 2022.
The Government did not respond until May, when it accepted that the Building Momentum pay terms should be improved. It also said it wanted to discuss pay for 2023 to have certainty over next year’s public service pay bill.
Talks got underway in the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) but ended without agreement on 17th June.
Despite some mixed signals from senior political figures, there was no subsequent indication of any improved offer from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) officials who negotiate on behalf of the Government.
So, on 15th July, the ICTU Public Services Committee agreed on a coordinated campaign, including industrial action ballots.
The WRC then invited the parties to re-engage and union negotiators agreed to this. But, in the absence of any indication that the Government is prepared to significantly improve its stance, unions agreed that preparations for ballot should go ahead.
How does the Government’s offer fall short?
When the talks broke down in mid-June, the Government had offered an additional 2.5% to cover 2021-2022, a period in which overall inflation looked set to exceed 10%. And it offered a 2.5% increase in 2023, a year in which most analysts expect inflation to at least top 4%. This stance would guarantee substantial real cuts in wages.
When will the ballot take place?
Preparations are now underway for the Fórsa ballot, which is expected to begin on 1st September.
In the meantime, other public service unions affiliated to ICTU will ballot their members in late August to early September, with a view to achieving a collective outcome that would give a mandate for industrial action from the end of September.
Who gets to vote?
- Fórsa members directly employed in the civil or public service, including those in ‘section 38’ agencies are being balloted.
- Members in ‘section 39’ and ‘section 56’ community and voluntary sector agencies will not be involved in this ballot as they are not directly employed by civil or public service employers.
- Members in commercial State agencies will not be involved in this ballot as they are not directly employed by civil or public service employers.
Will it be an ‘aggregate ballot’?
This is not an aggregate ballot. (An ‘aggregate ballot’ is one where each union is bound by the collective outcome of all ballots, even if their own members voted against industrial action.)
Why wait until end-September to take industrial action?
This is to allow the ballots to take place, ensure enough time to properly coordinate any industrial action, and give adequate notice of industrial action as required by law.
What form will industrial action take?
Union members will be asked to sanction industrial action up to and including strike action. This will give a mandate to take strike action and/or more limited forms of action such as a work to rule, a ban on overtime, or other forms of non-co-operation.
The precise nature and timing of industrial action will be decided by affiliated unions, in consultation with the ICTU Public Services Committee, once ballots are completed.
How will industrial action impact public services?
Unions and their members only ever consider industrial action as a last resort because we know it means inconvenience for the people who depend on the important and valued services we provide.
This campaign has developed because of the Government’s wholly inadequate response to the cost-of-living crisis and, specifically, its impact on State employees. Unions have told the WRC that we are ready to be flexible in negotiations if the Government is prepared to move.
If there is industrial action, unions and their members will ensure that emergency cover is in place so that the safety and dignity of service users is maintained and protected across the public services.
What happens if the ballots reject industrial action?
If one or more unions vote against industrial action, it will severely weaken the campaign’s strength and ability to deliver decent pay awards for workers who are currently bearing the full brunt of large and sustained increases in the cost of home heating, fuel, food, housing, childcare, and many other essentials.
What is the ICTU Public Services Committee?
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) is the sole federation for trade unions in Ireland, north and south. Its Public Services Committee is made up of all affiliated unions in the Republic of Ireland who have members in the civil and/or public service. It’s made up of unions that collectively represent well over 90% of the State’s civil and public servants.
The committee elects officers, who negotiate public service agreements on behalf of all affiliated public service unions. The outcomes of these negotiations are put to ballots of members in individual unions before a collective decision to accept or reject is taken on the basis of weighted votes. In other words, each union’s voting power reflects the size of its membership in the civil and public service.
Fórsa local meetings
A series of informational meetings on the issue have been arranged around the country by union officials. Details of confirmed meetings are available here.