The Celtic Tiger, The Lansdowne Road Agreement and the ASTI Strike. 1

Ah, no you may say. Surely there is no connection between these three thingymabobs. Two certainly, but not three.

But as this is Maths/Numeracy Week, here goes.

The fundamental problem with the Celtic Tiger was NOT the Social Partnership agreements. These agreements offered the foundation for industrial peace. However, the foundation was shakey and was always going to come unstuck because the cement that bound the aggregate together (sorry about the building pun there) was percentages. And percentages can be wolves in sheep’ clothing.

On the face of it, my 5% increase was the same as your 5%. But because you were on higher wages (especially if you were in the private sector or in government) you got more and your wages had a higher inflationary effect. Now overall this effect might have been small, but it was nonetheless contributory to the overall problem of wage-push inflation. Wages increase, this leads to higher spending, thus increasing demand for goods and services and, ahem, houses, and causing higher prices (inflation) that creates the need for higher wages.

(Remember Bertie’s 7% that was working out at €38,000 which he apparently had to forego because that increase alone was more than the average industrial wage!)

In addition to that, because you earn more than me, you spend a smaller percentage of your income on necessities leaving you more opportunities to increase your wealth while I simply try get by. You get to buy more and bigger cars, houses, holidays, shares in Anglo-Irish Bank, all the time driving up my costs and reducing my ability to keep pace.

But you say, you’re getting 5% – what could be fairer than that. And if you still think it’s not fair, let’s do a Benchmarking exercise where we try to quantifiably equate the levels of the work of a Garda with that of a Park Ranger. It would be nice to have the paper work from this, ahem, Project Maths exercise, but they shredded the files so no one would know exactly how they discovered the grand unifying equation that explains the universe and everything in it!!!

And then the crash happened (largely thanks to people like you…well, not you, but you know what I mean).

So we both take a 5% cut (well, mine is actually 25% but no one believes that but it is) and what could be fairer than that. Except because you earn more, you are more able to absorb a 5% decrease than I am.

The point of all this is that these percentages were hardcoded into the partnership agreements. And these agreements were national level rather than sectoral level. Simply put, everyone was in the same boat.

Now, we didn’t mind so much when the boat was rising. No one minds rich people getting rich so long as we are all getting richer. It is when we get poorer and rich people don’t get poorer as quickly that people begin to feel uncomfortable.

And this is where the financial emergency legislation and various public sector pay agreements come in. You see Virginia, there are many ways of getting poorer, not just by losing money. You can get poorer by losing time. Or having to work harder for the same money. Or having to agree to things that in normal circumstances you just would not accept. Sure weren’t we all in the same boat? If we all pull together, we can get out of the storm more quickly and sure things will be grand then?

Now, I am in favour of agreements that create harmony. But the agreement must be that, an agreement; not something forced by a stronger party on a weaker party.

Constructing a blunt one-size-fits-all public sector agreement cannot work during a recession. How can the government equate 30 hours sitting in a school meeting (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) with an already embattled nurse taking responsibility for an extra bed? Well they can, but only if that ‘agreement’ requires you to sell your soul to get back something that was yours in the first place.

The Lansdowne Road Agreement is simply too blunt an instrument to be acceptable to the ASTI. It requires too much from teachers especially with regard to so-called ‘reforms’, of which the Junior Cycle is one. And it neuters Union power. And it further cements unequal pay.

Then, according to The Irish Times,

Government sources indicated that if the ASTI dropped its plans to withdraw from the Croke Park hours, the union would no longer be considered to be “repudiating” the Lansdowne Road accord and increments — which have been frozen since July — and the supervision and substitution payment would be paid.

I’m speechless. If this is true, someone is either completely out of touch with reality or convinced that teachers are stupid. So guys, here it is in black and white;

  1. I can’t repudiate something to which I haven’t agreed.
  2. If you work an hour, you expect to get paid for that hour. If you work the hour and I refuse to pay you but I tell you I will pay you for that hour IF you work these other hours FOR FREE, how would you feel?

The thing is, I already did the extra free hours and you STILL won’t pay me. So I cannot TRUST you. So why would I agree to anything you put in front of me.

The issue of course is that the DES/Govt is like the toddler who derives their sense of competence from non-stop repetition.

Yes, very good.
Yes, very good.
Yes, very good. Here, have a look at this broken window.
Lansdowne Road Agreement
Lansdowne Road Agreement
Lansdowne Road Agreement

But just as the there is more to the world than the toddler sees, so too is there more to harmonious industrial relations than a single, blunt multi-union collective agreement.

I can understand the attractiveness of the Haddington Road Agreement (HRA) and it’s evil sprog the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA). Negotiating one agreement is quicker and leaves more time for networking in the Dail bar or a round of golf or attending the funerals of people you’ve never met.

When times are good, mummy and daddy (or whatever hetero-neutral terms you prefer) can take everyone for ice cream and a go on the bumper cars.

But when we all fall down following the crash, each of us needs individual attention. Yes Virginia, your conclusion is correct, but it serves my purpose here. Don’t forget, mummy and daddy are just as capable of getting all pouty; and that might explain the ‘you’re after repudiating my agreement owee owee owee’.

So, the government refuses to pay me for work done unless I sign their new agreement that will basically make me a robotic slave.

Eh, no thanks.

If only that was all that was wrong.

Tomorrow, I’ll suggest something towards a solution.


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One thought on “The Celtic Tiger, The Lansdowne Road Agreement and the ASTI Strike.

  • Cathal Ashbourne-Loftus

    Excellent statement, Peter. Totalitarianism, IMHO, is at back of the current scenario – also known as our bureaucrats’ ardent desire to micro-manage our lives (and, thereby, to reduce us to misery). We elect politicians – who are supposed to protect us from the bureaucrats. But they betray us. Remember: when the late Minister Brian Lenihan reduced the pay of ALL public servants, he had to partially revise that, PDQ, to keep his “top civil servants” sweet. Recently, the “top civil servants” got a hefty pay restoration and “startled” TDs had to “reluctantly” accept it – for TDs are paid the same rate as “top civil servants”. So, who runs this country: and for whom is it being run?