End in sight for crippling action
State promises not to cut pay but freeze will stay in place
A CRIPPLING campaign of industrial action by public servants may soon be over after the Government guaranteed it will not cut their pay for four years.
But a draft deal brokered during intense talks with unions at Croke Park does not guarantee that pay cuts imposed in the last Budget will be reversed.
Under the agreement, the unions will commit to major reforms in work practices and conditions of employment throughout the entire public service.
Wages will only be boosted if an annual "review" from next spring can verify that state employees have delivered "sufficient" savings through major cost-saving reforms, including longer working hours and new rosters.
Priority will be given to low-paid state employees on salaries of €35,000 or less when the first pay review takes place.
However, it is unclear what proportion of their lost salaries will be restored and when.
A pay freeze will remain in place and increments and promotions will not be given automatically, but will be based on performance.
In addition, the agreement can become void in the event of "unforeseen budgetary deterioration".
But public servants' wages will be safe from further reductions until 2014 and there will be no compulsory redundancies if they co-operate with a massive plan to redeploy them across the public sector to busy or short-staffed areas.
The deal is also expected to avert a mass exodus from the garda force this year.
The proposed deal that centres on a trade-off of "pay for change" was brokered by unions and government officials early yesterday.
Speaking after talks ended at around 3am, the mediators said unions had agreed to consider their request to halt industrial action and they had "positive indications" they would do that.
The public has felt the impact of the industrial action particularly at the Passport Office, where over 50,000 applications are still waiting to be processed.
Labour Relations Commission chief executive Kieran Mulvey, who chaired the talks, described the breakthrough in talks as "revolutionary".
Chief union negotiator and Impact general secretary Peter McLoone said the proposals could restore the trust, confidence and morale of workers.
Unions will meet over the coming days to discuss the deal, the Public Service Agreement, 2010-2014, before balloting their members over the coming weeks.
However, the Teachers' Union of Ireland last night warned that any talk of it being a "done deal" was completely inaccurate.
Teacher union executives will meet today to discuss the outcome of the negotiations.
Concern about further erosion in their pensions and gratuities prompted many experienced gardai to consider retiring from the force.
Similar fears last year resulted in 800 retirements, an unprecedented number and twice the usual rate.
However, the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors heard in Galway yesterday that the new deal would bring some security and certainty to members who were contemplating retirement.
Association general secretary Joe Dirwan told delegates that the Government had agreed to extend the terms of the pension agreements into 2011 and this would avoid a scenario where colleagues were being forced into retirement because of fears over their lump sums and pension terms.
The proposal acknowledges that public servants made a very significant contribution towards the recovery of the economy over the last two years, with over €3bn slashed from the pay and pensions bill.
It says the core concern for the Government is to restore the public finances and reduce the deficit to less than 3pc of GDP by 2014.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he was happy with the outcome of the talks and the deal paved a way forward for the transformation of the public sector.
The hole in the public-sector purse currently stands at €20bn and the Government has committed to shave €5.5bn off state expenditure before 2014.