Pension levy 'on the table' in public sector pay talks, says union
THE controversial pension levy will form a central plank of next year's major talks aimed at reversing cuts imposed on public servants, the Irish Independent has learned.
The country's largest public sector union has warned that the entire €2.2bn worth of cuts imposed by the Haddington Road Agreement will be on the table when union leaders begin fresh negotiations with Brendan Howlin.
The Public Expenditure Minister was strongly criticised by several Fine Gael TDs after he revealed that the Government is ready to begin talks on pay restoration in the public sector.
Mr Howlin said public sector workers can now expect to see their pay and conditions improved, adding: "A day will arrive when the emergency no longer exists."
The minister's comments have prompted trade unions to begin the process of compiling a list of demands on behalf of the country's 290,000 public servants.
And in an interview with the Irish Independent, a senior public sector trade unionist hit back at the "discordant voices" who are opposed to a reversal of pay cuts.
Kevin Callinan, the deputy general secretary of IMPACT, insisted that public sector workers have suffered disproportionately compared with many groups in the private sector.
He confirmed that the public sector pension levy, which averages 7.5pc, would be on the table during next year's talks. The levy was the first measure introduced under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts 2009-2013, known as FEMPI. "It has been a source of a lot of anger among public servants," Mr Callinan said.
"We're going to look at all the sacrifices that have been suffered by our members - the fact that there has been a pay freeze, the fact that there has been an imposed pension levy, the fact that there has been imposed pay cuts of different magnitudes - we will be looking at something that is a strategy that is balanced and fair across the range of public servants," he added.
The insistence that the pension levy will be on the negotiation table comes just days after business group IBEC said it should be maintained.
The Coalition has not yet discussed the pension levy, however, it is expected that some ministers will look for it to be reduced but not scrapped entirely.
Meanwhile, Mr Callinan said IMPACT does not want a repeat of what he described as an "attempt to divide" public and private sector workers.
"It has tended to deflect attention away from the real cause of the crisis, perhaps that's the reason why it's done," Mr Callinan said.
"It's a real cancer on our ability to work together as a people, as workers, to get out of where we are at," he added.
But Mr Callinan insisted that in many cases, public sector workers have suffered disproportionately compared with their private sector counterparts.
"This isn't the public sector leading some pay agenda," he said. "But it is the case, and the statistics bare this out, apart from job losses, many parts of the private sector have not suffered pay reductions during the period of the crisis.
"Obviously many have, but many haven't. But in the public sector, everybody has suffered."
IMPACT, which represents over 63,500 public servants, will play a key role in next year's pay talks.
Mr Howlin's intervention, made during an interview with the Irish Independent earlier this month, has already led to tensions between Fine Gael and Labour.
Fine Gael TDs John Deasy, Eoghan Murphy and Olivia Mitchell have all voiced grave concern in response to Mr Howlin's remarks.
But Mr Callinan described the interventions by the Fine Gael backbenchers as "worrying" and said there was the implication that public servants are to blame for the economic crisis.
"The worrying part of those interventions is there is almost the suggestion that public servants are responsible for the situation we are in.
"They are not and in fact public servants have made huge sacrifices to help the economy get out of the difficulties it was in," he added.