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The cost of 'partnership'

category ireland / britain | workplace struggles | opinion / analysis author Tuesday September 21, 2010 19:10author by Gregor Kerr - WSM Report this post to the editors

HSE & Health Service National Partnership Forum payments

Many trade union activists have known for years that “social partnership” comes at a huge price for union independence and the ability of trade unions to defend the interest of their members. The myth that government and employers on one side and workers on the other side have some form of common interest has been peddled for over twenty years. This has resulted in a trade union movement whose leadership seems incapable of independent thought and whose membership has been browbeaten into accepting pay cuts, ‘pension levies’ and various attacks on our working conditions and living standards over the past couple of years.

The recently published Comptroller and Auditor General’s Report has lifted the lid just slightly on how much the government was willing to pay for this blunting of the trade union movement – and how willing certain members of the trade union leadership were to essentially sell the movement’s soul.

The Report identifies a payment of €876,000 made from the HSE during the period 2004 - 2008 to an account known as the “SIPTU National Health and Local Authority Levy” through a body known as the Health Service National Partnership Forum which according to the Irish Times is “a body set up to foster co-operation between management and unions”.

‘Fostering co-operation between management and unions’ should surely be the very antithesis of what trade unions stand for. Any trade unionist worth her/his salt knows that this is government-speak for buying off the unions by making the leadership feel important. But unfortunately there have been many in the leadership of our movement in recent times who have been only too willing to do the modern-day equivalent of ‘taking the queen’s shilling’

The HSE has claimed that this money was intended for “training and people-management purposes”. When the boss gives the union money for the purposes of “people management” something doesn’t add up!

This €876,000 was paid into the same account that received another payment of €2.3 million from the HSE as part of the Skill programme for training staff in the health service. This payment has been the subject of serious controversy and a HSE audit has found that among the items this was spent on were 31 foreign trips to places including the USA, Australia, Hong Kong and the UK. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s Report claims that Department of Health officials have stated that these trips “…. had their basis in wider efforts under partnership to improve industrial relations and develop a shared understanding of the scope for change and reform in the health service.”

I suppose it’s easier to come up with ‘a shared understanding of the scope for change and reform’ over dinner in a fancy restaurant in New York than it is to ask union members about the ‘change and reform’ at the top of the HSE that is necessary to improve the health service.

It’s time for union members to reclaim our unions from those who see their purpose as being to ‘foster co-operation’ and to re-ignite a fighting spirit to defend our working terms and conditions and our living standards.

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