June 2010: Jack O’Connor, general president, Siptu

Business Person of the Month | Fri 2 Jul | Author – Business & Finance
Jack O'Connor

O’Connor recently advised Siptu members to vote in favour of the Croke Park deal, acknowledging it’s importance to the economy.

Because

Jack O’Connor, the general president of Ireland’s largest trade union Siptu, recently advised his members to vote in favour of the proposed Croke Park deal, acknowledging its importance to the future of the Irish economy. Under an accord reached in March, negotiated in Croke Park, the Government said it would make no further public-sector pay cuts for the next four years, and trade union leaders agreed to try to prevent strikes and end work-to-rule protests.

Realising the damage that further disruption could cause to Ireland’s reputation abroad, O’Connor said: “If you have a long industrial campaign…the interpretation of it externally would be that the Government wasn’t able to honour its commitments and consequently, the credibility of Government bonds would be very much in question,”

“If the Croke Park deal is accepted, our position is going to be: the people of the public service have stepped up to the mark and have committed to huge sacrifices, now what are the wealthy going to do,” O’Connor said. “If the answer is still nothing, it’s going to be a political campaign.”

Siptu, the largest trade union with over 200,000 members, recommended to its members that they approve the Croke Park deal. Balloting on the proposals is expected to end in June. O’Connor said a rejection of the deal by the unions would embolden the Government to make further cuts towards the savings of €3bn it needs in the budget for 2011.

Protests

In December last year, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan introduced public-sector pay cuts of between 5% and 15% to achieve a quarter of the €4bn of savings that were made.

Unions led thousands in large protests against these austerity measures but since then, objections have taken the form of a low-key campaign of disrupting services sporadically, such as not answering phones. “I wouldn’t say that we would rule out strikes absolutely,” O’Connor said, adding that if public-service trade unions were to mobilise, they could provide “very effective opposition”.

Siptu

Jack O’Connor has served as the general president of Siptu since 2003, and was re-elected unopposed in 2006.

He has been a member of the executive council of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) since 2001 and was elected as vice-president of Congress in 2007. He also serves on both the general purposes committee and the private-sector committee of ICTU. He participated on the ICTU negotiating team for the Sustaining Progress and Towards 2016 agreements.

Balance of advantage

In April 2010, Siptu leadership advised its members to accept the Croke Park public-sector pay and reform agreement, citing that the “balance of advantage” lies with the acceptance of the deal.

History

Born in 1957, O’Connor is a native of north Co Dublin. Employed in the agriculture, construction and local authority sectors, he was a trade-union activist before becoming a full-time branch secretary of the former Federated Workers’ Union of Ireland in 1980 which organised fire fighters, port workers and public sector and local authority employees. On the formation of Siptu in January 1990, he was appointed regional secretary in the midlands and in 1997,      he took on the additional responsibility for the union’s south-east region.

Union leader

  • Late 2009: O’Connor led large protests against public-sector pay reform.
  • April 2010: Siptu recommends to its members to accept the Croke Park deal.

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