Monday 21 August 2017

Garda associations to demand return of annual €4,017 rent allowance for new recruits

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Stock picture

Anne-Marie Walsh

THE main garda associations will today demand the return of an annual €4,017 rent allowance for new recruits as part of a trade-off to get their members to back the Lansdowne Road agreement.

AGSI and the Garda Representative Association will also ask the Department of Justice to defer an increment freeze that is set to be imposed on public servants who stay outside the deal from July 1.

They will request a “roadmap” for the restoration of pay cuts suffered during the crisis years, the ability to negotiate their own pay and conditions and use the services of the Workplace Relations Commission.

The demands will be discussed at a meeting this morning with department officials in a last ditch bid to get gardai over the line before the Lansdowne Road Agreement begins next month.

In return, the department wants the garda bodies to recommend the deal to their members and is also asking that they begin working 30 extra hours of overtime a year, which they stopped working at the end of last year.

Sources said the parties are still “poles apart” on some issues, but hopes are high that they can agree a proposal document that the garda bodies will put to their members in a ballot.

 “We are going in here to agree something that we could recommend to our members and it will depend on the attitude of government and garda management as to whether they are prepared to engage positively, as we are prepared to engage positively” said an AGSI spokesperson.

Sources said there is “an appetite” in government for an end to the two-tier pay system between new recruits and longer-serving staff.

The rent allowance for gardai and firefighters is paid to all members of staff regardless of whether they are renting or not. The last government abolished it for new entrants four years ago.

A document on the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s website says the allowance, which came into being for gardai in 1926, is paid to every member up to and including chief superintendent. It says the main reason for the allowance is that gardai may be deployed by the Garda Commissioner to serve anywhere in the state.

The garda bodies are pushing for the return of the rent allowance in the wake of a special deal to return the allowance to newly-recruited firefighters.

It was brokered during Brendan Howlin’s final days as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

However, Siptu Sector Organiser Brendan O’Brien revealed that the allowance that is set to be incorporated into his members’ basic pay has still not been paid to the couple of hundred recruits that have been taken in the last four years.

He called on the government to uphold its side of the deal.

“I am calling on government to honour the agreement that’s been made,” he said.  “As far as we’re concerned, we’ve met the requirements that were sought by the management side and now it’s time for them to write the cheque.”

He said these requirements included a commitment by his members to cooperate with a new forum on firefighter issues.

Like the teacher unions, the garda bodies are seeking an end to the two-tier pay system between existing staff and new entrants to the public service.

Recruits are being employed on salaries that are 10pc lower than their colleagues for the first two to three years in the job, before moving onto the same payscale.

For example, a garda on attestation now starts on a €23,171 wage compared with a salary of €25,745 six years ago. In addition, the last government axed allowances that are still paid to existing staff four years ago.

The possibility of the return of allowances for new recruits has already been credited as a major factor for the TUI when it finally rowed in behind the Lansdowne Road deal in a recent ballot. There is an expectation that qualification allowances worth around €4,000 each to newly-qualified teachers with BAs and MAs may be restored.

However, the ASTI still remains outside the agreement.

It is likely that if an agreement is brokered at the garda talks, the department will hold off on its threat to freeze increments to allow a vote to take place.

The GRA, which represents 10,500 rank and file gardai, met with Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald last month for the first time since the formation of the new government. It has warned that it will be “forced to consider alternative action” if the government uses FEMPI legislation to freeze increments.

The Department of Justice said talks are “ongoing” with garda representative associations “with the objective of creating a pathway to their re-engagement with the Lansdowne Road agreement”.

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