At its recent bi-annual conference, the country’s newest trade union, Fórsa, which represents 80,000 workers, elected Dromahair’s Ann McGee as its President.
The union was formed in January following a merger of three existing unions - Impact, Civil, Public and Services Union (CPSU), and the Public Service Executive Union (PSEU).
Fórsa represents workers in civil and public services, commercial and non-commercial semi-state organisations, the voluntary sector and private companies in aviation and telecommunications and is now the second largest union in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
Ann has worked in the pension’s office at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in Sligo since 1993 and has a long association with trade unions.
She was elected as CPSU President in 2016 and upon the formation of Fórsa she was announced as one of three joint President’s before an election was held at the end of May which saw her emerge with a two thirds majority of the vote giving her what she described as, “A very strong mandate” for her new role.
Prior to her election Ann highlighted some of the key areas where she felt she could make a contribution pointing to the name of the Union, which means ‘strength’ in Irish.
She believes, “The whole idea is trying to get out to the membership. There are 80,000 members and 50,000 of them are low paid. They wanted to put someone in they could relate to.”
The fact that the organisation represents members of both the public and private sector is something Ann believes strengthens the hand of Fórsa saying the merger created, “One strong negotiating block. One voice for civil and public servants all talking and negotiating with one voice.”
Ann also feels there have efforts to turn public and private sector workers against each other saying, “They need to be working together, not against each other.
“The public sector have so much to offer the private sector and vice versa.”
Working conditions is an issue Ann also campaigned on, pointing to the length of the working week many workers put in every week saying, “Hours is a huge thing across the board. It affects everyone.
“All terms and conditions have been stripped away. They exist on paper but when you go looking for them they are not there.”
Addressing delegates at the Union’s inaugural conference in Killarney Ann outlined her vision for Fórsa saying, “Our mantra must be better pay, terms and conditions for all.”
The process of establishing Fórsa took almost four years and received universal backing from the members of all three unions with Ann outlining her belief that for the organisation to be successful it must focus on those at the bottom in terms of pay and rank.
“A trade union should be from the from the bottom up, not the top down.”
Since the formation of the new Trade Union, Ann has been pleasantly surprised by how easy it has been to work with those who from the other organisations.
“We didn’t realise we had so much in common and we are learning more of that as we set up committees and sub-committees.”
As well as trying to get rid of low paid starting points, Ann is also eager to address the fact that “women in representative roles in trade unions don’t exist.”
Speaking at the ICTU women’s conference in Enniskillen last week Ann told delegates they “Could and should strive to become leaders.
She added, “Our determination to succeed is strong enough, so let there be no obstacles or barriers to women securing positions of leadership in our movement. I stand here today as an example that today’s accomplishments were yesterday’s impossibilities.”