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Sunday 23 April 2017

Give us €1.6bn in pay hike and do not touch pensions, unions warn

Wants pay deal: PSEU general secretary Tom Geraghty
Wants pay deal: PSEU general secretary Tom Geraghty

Anne-Marie Walsh

A chief negotiator at upcoming talks on a new public sector pay deal has revealed that unions will seek rises worth in the region of €1.6bn.

The scale of the figure put forward by general secretary of the Public Service Executive Union Tom Geraghty will alarm the Government as it battles to keep a lid on soaring pay demands.

The amount being sought is double what is being given in pay rises under the current Lansdowne Road Agreement.

It is also higher than the entire budget for this year.

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe has already warned ministers they face hard spending choices because of the cost of special pay deals granted to public servants this year.

Mr Geraghty, who represents 10,000 mid-ranking civil servants, is also secretary of the Public Services Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Members of the committee will be the main negotiators at talks on a deal to succeed the Lansdowne Road Agreement due to begin next month.

The deal does not run out until September next year - but Mr Donohoe agreed to hold the talks early.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, Mr Geraghty said the average public servant's pay was 10pc lower than in 2009 due to pay cuts, although those earning below €28,750 were already back to where they were because of increases already given.

Analysis: Unions determined - but pushing their luck with the scale of these demands

A total of €1.4bn in pension levy and pay cuts has not been restored, and unions will also push for additional pay rises before the current deal runs out.

"Clearly we're not going to do a pay deal that would leave them (the lower paid) behind, so you're probably looking at a cost in the region of €1.6bn to do some sort of a deal."

Asked if he felt this opening position was likely to be achieved despite the huge costs involved, he said it was "very realistic" and "has to be done".

"The emergency is over and that was the legal justification for doing what they did," he said, referring to the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Fempi) legislation that was imposed to reduce pay.

He accepted the amount demanded would be double what was achieved under the Lansdowne Road Agreement, but described that deal as a "minimal attempt" to begin the restoration of what was lost since 2009. "It was only about €2,000 each over a two-and-a-half-year deal and we got a lot of criticism," he said. "Nobody got rich on it."

He said it was possible to strike a deal that would fully unwind the emergency legislation that cut pay within a few years. He said retaining part of a pension levy imposed during the financial crisis was "up for discussion".

But he said unions were "absolutely unanimous" there would be no deal that would reduce their retirement benefits.

They will seek a guarantee that the Government will not use its legal authority to stop the arrangement whereby public sector pensioners get an increase when someone in their old job gets a pay rise.

These will be major topics for discussion at his union's annual conference this week.

A motion tabled for the conference said the legislation should be unwound within a year, but there's an amendment down to remove that deadline.

"I wish it was realistic," he said. "The Government tells us that all its money for 2017 is spent, so presumably, if that is true, we're looking at a deal that will begin in 2018."

He said the Government was likely to claim there was only a certain amount of fiscal space available and it had to balance the deal with other demands.

"Michael Noonan has been very, very helpful of course with his comments in recent days about how healthy the economy is," he said. "That gives us more hope I suppose."

He said it was important for unions to be conscious of Brexit and they should not create a deal that was "only creating a problem for ourselves".

But he said it should not stop a deal to unwind Fempi given the amount of fiscal space the Government has available to it over the next few years.

Irish Independent

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