Kenny: I didn’t slap down Bruton, change is coming
Coalition tension as Kenny rebukes minister over 'personal agenda'
Published 27/05/2011 | 05:00
Taoiseach Enda Kenny today denied that he "slapped down" his Minister for Jobs, Richard Bruton over plans to cut the wages of 250,000 low-paid workers.
Mr Kenny yesterday described Bruton's proposals as his own "personal agenda" but this morning he played down talk of a rift between the two men.
"This is not what people want it to be", he said, and acknowledged that there would have to be changes to the way workers in the restaurant and retail sectors are paid.
Both the programme for government and the agreement with the IMF and Europe provided for reforms, he said.
Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton last night signalled he won't row back on controversial plans to cut the pay of up to 250,000 workers, despite a public slap down from Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Mr Kenny intervened after Labour ministers expressed alarm over the proposals to radically overhaul the system of setting wage rates for the lower paid -- one of the key groups the junior coalition party pledged to protect during the general election campaign.
The Taoiseach's rebuke -- in which he claimed that Mr Bruton was setting out his "own personal agenda" and emphasised no decision had been made -- calmed Labour nerves last night.
But the Cabinet must still make a final decision on the divisive wage reforms by the end of June, as it is a condition of the bailout deal done with the EU and IMF.
Mr Bruton made it clear last night he was sticking with his proposals that workers in hotels and restaurants lose their premium payment for Sunday working, as first revealed in the Irish Independent last Saturday. That payment can range from time-and-a-third to double time.
A spokesman for Mr Bruton said he was motivated by the need to protect and create jobs in these sectors, which have suffered job losses of up to 25pc over the past three years.
Mr Bruton is committed to a two-week consultative process being carried out with unions and employers. The consultation process is due to conclude on June 10. The Government has set a deadline to come up with an action plan by July 1.
Labour sources revealed the party had not been consulted in advance about Mr Bruton's proposals. One Labour TD angrily claimed last night that Mr Bruton had gone on a "solo run" and was taking the position of employers group IBEC.
Newly-elected Labour Galway East TD Colm Keaveney warned that Mr Bruton's plan to scrap some premium payments for workers in Joint Labour Committees (JLCs) would "test" his relationship with his party.
Mr Kenny moved to repair relations with Labour yesterday by saying Mr Bruton was setting out his "own personal agenda" and made it clear no decision would be made until a consultation process had been carried out.
"Obviously he's entitled to raise the issues when those discussions take place. But he will report back to government and government will consider all of the implications," he said.
A Government spokesman last night moved to take the sting out of Mr Kenny's comments about Mr Bruton.
"Minister Bruton does have an important role in this area. The Taoiseach was pointing out that the area itself is an entirely consultative process," he said.
It came after Social Protection Minister Joan Burton warned that cutting the pay of low-paid workers could force some of them on to the dole. She said she was going to commission an assessment from her department of the impact the proposals might have.
"If there were unthought-out reductions and changes it could mean that there would in fact be a bigger incentive for people to lean on social welfare, perhaps by reducing the number of days that they work, and then qualifying for a social welfare payment," she said.
Mr Bruton indicated last night he would alter his proposals if it could be shown there would be "unintended consequences".
The Government is committed under the EU-IMF bailout deal to reforming the JLC and Registered Employment Agreement system to make it more competitive.
Unions believe this represents a major threat to the pay rates and employment conditions of more than 250,000 workers in some of the biggest sectors of the economy including, retail, construction, hotels and contract cleaning.
Mr Bruton defended his position in the wake of Mr Kenny's comments. He said he was doing the job he had been given to do, which was to "develop solid proposals to protect employment and create employment opportunities".