14 April 2010

Deal or no deal?

Yesterday’s decision by the executive councils of Siptu and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) to offer alternative recommendations to their members in relation to the public service agreement leaves its chances of survival a matter of some conjecture.

Last night, Siptu’s Jack O’Connor said that the proposals represent the very best that can be achieved through negotiation. Ultimately, however, it will be down to the union’s membership to decide whether to accept or reject the Croke Park deal.

Earlier in the day, the INMO became the seventh public sector union to come out against the proposals, leaving the reject-support count at 7-4. Amongst the seven against are a number of unions representing staff working in higher education, including the TUI, Impact and Unite.

Specific measures relating to the institutes of technology and universities are contained in the appendix to the sectoral agreements. The IoT-related points are as follows:
• The review of the academic employment contract currently underway is to be completed by 31 August.
• An extra hour per week is to be added to the academic staff schedules, which is to be available to facilitate all educational activities in the institutes.
• Flexible delivery of new courses aimed at the unemployed.
• Implementation of redeployment schemes for academic, administrative, technical and support staff, within and between institutes and the wider public service.

(Interestingly, while redeployment is mentioned for academic staff within the sectoral agreement, there is no mention of how it will work for TUI members in the appendix dedicated to redeployment arrangements.)

Exhortations to be flexible, at an institutional and personal level, permeate the document. This would appear to be a sound principle to invoke, since flexibility is one of the virtues deemed necessary to recover from the current economic malaise. Our businesses must be flexible to changing market needs and our people flexible in their skill sets and competences. The difficulty however with flexibility is that it is not a cost-free charge card; we cannot simply wish it into being.

Reaching agreement without stand-offs and without inflicting further pain on wider society is unlikely without a shared vision of what we are trying to achieve and how we are going to do it. Right now, that is the last thing that people need from their higher education institutions.

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