Inter-union transfer agreed following staff moves

Hundreds of workers redeployed from the Irish state training agency FÁS have benefited from an agreement which allows them to transfer their membership from one union to another. The 700 staff moved to the Department of Social Protection in the civil service in 2012. An inter-union transfer agreement made it possible for them to switch from the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) to two unions that exclusively represent public sector workers.

Background

An agreement has been reached to change the union membership of 700 workers redeployed from Ireland’s state training agency FÁS to the Department of Social Protection. The staff were transferred early in 2012 under the terms of the Public Service Agreement 2010–2014 (324Kb PDF), also known as the Croke Park Agreement. The redeployed workers were members of the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) which does not currently have representation rights for staff in the civil service.

The civil service is governed by exclusive trade union representational rights based on grade. Under the conciliation and arbitration scheme (87Kb PDF) for the civil service, a trade union may only represent a grade if recognition for the grade has been granted to the union by the Minister for Finance.

The conciliation and arbitration scheme aims to:

...provide means acceptable both to the State and to its employees for dealing with claims and proposals relating to the conditions of service of civil servants and to secure the fullest co-operation between the State, as employer, and civil servants, as employees, for the better discharge of public business.

It has always been the policy of the conciliation and arbitration scheme that only one union is granted recognition for a particular grade. The Civil Public and Services Union (CPSU) represents clerical officers and staff officers, while the Public Service Executive Union (PSEU) represents executive officers and higher executive officers. A further union, the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants (AHCPS), represents assistant principals and principal officers.

The redeployed FÁS workers have now become members of the CPSU and PSEU.

Talks to broker a deal

Tripartite talks on the union transfer were held between the Department of Social Protection (DSP) and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, civil service unions and SIPTU. SIPTU had also referred the transfer to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Congress), to which all the unions involved are affiliated. Congress rules (IE0106238N) and the so-called ‘spheres of influence’ agreement say:

...unions should not take members of another union into membership, save with the consent of their existing union, pending the outcome of any dispute procedures referred to Congress under paragraphs 45/46 of the constitution...

Congress then referred the matter to the Labour Court for clarification.

During the talks, which had been going on since 2011, a public sector senior union leader who was involved told specialist publication Industrial Relations News (IRN) that the matter would not be allowed to become a barrier to staff redeployment or transfer under the Public Service Agreement 2010–2014 and ‘there won’t be a row’.

A CPSU memorandum was issued in late 2012 concerning former SIPTU members in clerical grades, who were transferred to the Department of Social Protection from FÁS into roles as clerical officers and staff officers. It said the members would be allowed to join CPSU, ‘the union with sole recognition for the grades of clerical officer and staff officer in the civil service’. According to the memorandum, the decision was reached ‘following an agreement of the Congress’ and clarification by the Chair of the Labour Court.

The agreement

Under the inter-union agreement, former SIPTU activists would be allowed to continue their activist role in the CPSU. The CPSU also agreed to represent the former SIPTU members on a number of outstanding industrial relations issues which were still to be resolved. The CPSU memorandum said:

Discussion will take place immediately to ensure the full integration of new members in all activities of the union, including branch and national committees.

The agreement also made other assurances to new members. These included a pledge to provide access to union committees and conference and appeal mechanisms. This would enable members to deal with situations where transferring members may be unhappy with the way their new union was dealing with issues already protected in the transfer to DSP negotiations.

Following the inter-union transfer agreement, SIPTU Industrial Organiser Brendan O’Brien told IRN that while it was not ideal that the union should lose so many members, it had accepted the decision. He said it was more important that the members stayed within the trade union movement and received proper representation with a union. He stressed that the union had recommended that their members joined the appropriate civil service unions and ‘generally speaking’, he said, most had done so.

Roisin Farrelly, IRN Publishing

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