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Saturday 23 September 2017

Howlin faces public pay battle as unions reveal 'guarantees'

Anne-Marie Walsh Industry Correspondent

Trade unions claim they have a written guarantee from the Government that will prevent Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin cutting public servants' €1.5bn allowances and premium pay.

Mr Howlin recently indicated that existing staff may lose some allowances, as well as new recruits, in an upcoming review that aims to slash €75m from payroll costs this year.

He also said payments that were not classified as 'core pay' could be axed as well as 'historic' payments that are no longer justified. He promised to do this while respecting the Croke Park agreement.

However, unions have revealed they got a written guarantee from the Government after the Croke Park deal was struck that means the payments to serving staff will be safe.

They will claim Mr Howlin is in breach of the deal if there is an attempt to cut payments to civil servants.

They have said, crucially, that the guarantee from public service management to serving staff covers all premium and allowance payments and does not distinguish between those that are core pay or not.

And if they refer the dispute to the Implementation Body overseeing the deal, this could lead to delays or even jeopardise the review.

Unions revealed the existence of the letters as a warning shot to the minister as he is expected to announce the outcome of the review of more than 800 allowances shortly.

The Croke Park deal was agreed between unions and the previous Fianna Fail-led government in 2010 and has been upheld by the current Government.

The guarantees were given to unions after the Croke Park deal was struck to clarify the position on additional payments.

This was because the agreement only referred to salaries being safe from cuts.

One letter, from the HSE to the Psychiatric Nurses' Association (PNA), said the commitment in the Croke Park deal to no further reductions in public servants' pay "also applies to the current rates of allowances and premium payments".

In another section, the letter from the Corporate Employee Relations Services section, sent in December 2010, says: "Within the health sector, the existing premium rates will continue to apply."

Assurances

It says the rates will also apply equally to categories of staff "who historically have not worked these patterns of work and therefore did not previously receive these premium payments".

The PNA said this could be interpreted to mean new recruits and existing staff who are redeployed or promoted, leaving the department with little room for cuts.

"In the current situation, I can't see how the minister can interfere with these payments," said PNA general secretary Des Kavanagh.

"If he wants to do so, given the assurances we got under the Croke Park deal, he would have to wait until the expiry of the agreement. The letter refers to all allowances as core pay."

A spokesman for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said the minister would be bringing proposals to Government in the coming weeks regarding the review of allowances.

"We won't be making any comment in advance of the meeting," he said.

Since the end of January, new recruits and existing staff who are promoted or transferred have had their payments suspended while the review was under way.

The review was due to be released at the end of February but still hasn't been announced.

Irish Independent

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