Written Answers. - Industrial Disputes.

Michael Ring

Question:

139 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position in relation to the dispute at his Department; the negotiations taking place; and when he expects this dispute to be resolved in view of the very grave difficulty it is causing to many people including farmers, butchers and others. [10968/03]

CPSU members in my Department's local offices have engaged in industrial action since 18 March 2003.

Initially the action taken was a ban on telephone/fax queries and since 25 March this escalated to include the non-performance of counter duties in the afternoons. The CPSU had divided the country into four regions and the industrial action was to rotate between the regions on a weekly basis. As the action taken constituted a refusal to perform their core duties, my Department had no option but to remove staff from the payroll in the region undertaking the action.

To date, 224 CPSU members have been removed from the payroll. The decision to remove staff from the payroll was not taken lightly. The union members had decided not to perform normal duties arising from telephone calls and faxes and duties at reception desks. The services provided from our local offices are essential to the farming community, in particular in the context of cattle movements to factories and marts as well as the various direct payments to farmers.

Following on the decision to remove staff from the payroll, my Department was advised that, with effect from 3 April, CPSU members would be picketing the offices which were the subject of industrial action for that week – Mayo, Galway, Limerick and Kerry. To date, only those offices are engaged in industrial action.
The union is demanding that we increase the number of posts in the staff officer and executive officer grades. This demand is a cost increasing claim under the social partnership agreement. These agreements specifically preclude such claims and any form of industrial action. Officials from my Department met on 2 April with CPSU representatives but, unfortunately, no basis for a settlement emerged from this meeting.
The scope for agreeing any deal is limited by the terms of the various social partnership agreements, the need to control public expenditure and the implications for other sectors of the public service if a concession is made in this case. The industrial action as indicated above is contrary to the general pay agreements. I regret any inconvenience caused to the farming and agri-food sector as a result of this dispute.