A MAJOR rift has erupted between frontline staff over breakaway pay deals struck by firefighters and prison officers.
Members of the 24/7 Frontline Services Alliance, which represents workers in the emergency services, are furious after the Government struck standalone deals to protect the premium pay of some of their colleagues.
Nurses, gardai, paramedics, and other staff face cuts to their Sunday premium and evening payments from July if the majority of union members back the new Croke Park deal.
But the Government has brokered separate deals with firefighters and prison officers, which maintains their premium pay rates, twilight payments and allowances.
It is understood that leading figures in the alliance were not aware that some of their colleagues were engaged in separate negotiations behind the scenes with the Government.
Payments for prison officers and firefighters have been protected under the new deals because they have found savings elsewhere.
The revelation is already causing serious divisions within the group and is expected to test government claims that the new deal is fair to all grades of staff.
Unions last night indicated they may take legal action on the basis of alleged discrimination against groups of staff.
They accused the Government of trying to break up the 24/7 Frontline Services Alliance, which is campaigning against the cuts.
One of the leaders of the alliance, Seamus Murphy, said it appeared that further discussions had taken place with certain staff since the main deal was brokered earlier this week.
"Workers are going ballistic that the same facility wasn't offered to them," he said.
"The agreement proposal is that staff are paid time-plus-three-quarters, but it appears that others in the system will still be paid double-time."
The main deal covering most of the 290,000 public servants means premium pay will be cut from double-time to time-and-three-quarters, while so-called twilight payments, for working between 6pm and 8pm, are being axed.
In a dispatch to members, the Prison Officers' Association said securing savings in other areas "allowed it to protect present premium payments".
The document outlining details of the deal with the Government said the main agreement's requirement for extra working hours would not apply to members because they agreed to additional hours in a past deal.
It said twilight payments, a night-duty allowance, and Saturday, Sunday and bank holiday allowances would remain unchanged.
In addition, a letter from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform says "the totality of the pay structure" for full-time firefighters will not be affected by the cuts in the main deal.
The 40,000-strong Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), which pulled out of talks, said the deals "brought the legality of what's going to emerge into sharper focus".
"Small groups have been able to secure the savings another way, but the Government point blank refused to deal with the health sector as a whole," said INMO general secretary Liam Doran.
"The groups they are looking after are primarily male ones, and the ones that are left are primarily female.
"It's patently unfair and unsustainable. When the dust settles, this difference of approach will be tested legally."
General secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, John Redmond, accused the Government of trying to cause a rift between members of the frontline alliance.
He said gardai did not want a similar deal, as the main deal had other objectionable measures including a review of allowances.
Mr Redmond warned the association would go to the High Court if the Government tried to impose the cuts from July, when a deal is due to be rolled out.
President of the Garda Representative Association, John Parker, condemned unions for "daring to suggest" it could have received a similar deal to prison officers and firefighters.
"Let's put this notion to rest," he said. "The gardai were never invited into the main talks and have been excluded, since the formation of the State, from negotiations on matters of garda pay."
The national secretary of the Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association, John Kidd, said his threat to withdraw emergency cover at Dublin Airport on St Patrick's Day may have spurred the Government to do a separate deal.
He said this would have interrupted The Gathering.
He said he was seeking clarification that the firefighter agreement would cover part-time as well as full-time members.
Meanwhile, it appears that pensions for former Taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen face deeper cuts than serving public servants, but the reduction will not exceed 5pc.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said the reduction would apply to the €32,500-plus pensions of staff who avoided pension cuts by retiring before February last year.