Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte yesterday confirmed that he and his cabinet colleagues will take another pay cut as part of the new Croke Park deal, aimed at delivering €1bn in extra pay savings by 2015.
Elsewhere, it emerged last night that Brendan Howlin's department slapped down a request from the HSE to breach the €200,000 pay cap for its boss Tony O'Brien.
In a letter, seen by the Sunday Independent, it is made clear that no breach of the pay cap would be sanctioned by Mr Howlin.
"Sanction is conveyed for the total annual remuneration package of €194,950 for the period of his appointment. No additional elements may be sanctioned for his remuneration package," it read.
Meanwhile at the Croke Park talks last night, reductions in overtime and a request for public sector workers to work more hours per week were being "hotly discussed" – but agreement still seemed "some way off".
"Undoubtedly, I expect a package to emerge that will be fair, and that means those who have the most, contributing most," Mr Rabbitte said. "Of course that includes the political class – and it always has, since this Government has come into office."
Asked if that meant another cut for ministers, he replied: "I'm afraid it does, yeah."
Mr Rabbitte said he expected a deal to be concluded by the end of this month, "which was the date we had pencilled in". He was also critical of the "off-stage noises" that are seeking to destabilise the talks to achieve the €1bn in pay-related savings.
"We didn't really have any choice but to seek this contribution from across the public service. Everyone contributing something, but those at the top contributing most," he said.
Mr Rabbitte also said the Government would reluctantly legislate or impose the cuts if agreement is not reached.
"The Government has resolved that, if it is necessary to fall back on legislation, regrettably and reluctantly we would have to do that," he said.
It also emerged last night that the Government tabled a proposal to freeze all increments with certain "roll backs" or cuts for those who have reached the top of the scale.
The Government previously said the paying of increments cost in the region of €200m a year.
It has also been proposed that the radius for redeployment of staff may be increased from the 45km to 80km and there are also proposals for radical changes to flexitime.
Sources close to the talks yesterday were critical of the IMO's refusal for junior doctors to make any "contribution" at all to the process. "They get €166m between 4,000 of them, and yet they refuse to make any offer. There will be no deal if they keep this up. They are the only group not willing to budge," one source said. While unions were refusing to move above a 39-hour week, management were saying their minimum demand was for staff to work a 37-hour week.
Separate Government sources told this newspaper that the aim of the talks is to protect "core pay", but if agreement cannot be found, then core pay will be hit, even for mid- and low-paid workers.
Mr Howlin is under pressure to deliver the €1bn in savings and is targeting overtime, premium payments, pay at higher levels, increments and public service numbers to protect core pay.
"The decision by the two main garda associations (GRA and AGSI) to leave the talks and to pursue action outside the talks process is to be regretted," said one senior government source.
"Obviously we are conscious that working scheduled weekends needs to attract a payment for the inconvenience involved and, contrary to the impression created, premium payments are not to be abolished. However, it is a fact that we are currently paying €750m in overtime, premia and related payments."
Yesterday, the GRA said it was standing over its decision to leave the talks. It was also very critical of Justice Minister Alan Shatter, saying: "Despite his assertions, at no time have gardai been allowed into the main pay talks, but have always been sidelined in another meeting room and provided with irregular briefings on progress in the talks."
However, for those still in the talks, there was little sympathy for the GRA last night. One minister told the Sunday Independent that some unions "don't want to give in to the GRA's bully tactics. The GRA people overplayed their hand."
Taoiseach Enda Kenny attempted to stiffen the resolve of his party in this regard last week. Deputies were warned the new Croke Park deal and property tax would "represent the hardest six months of Government".
His views were echoed by a high-profile FG minister, who warned: "It is crucially important we do not flinch for a second on this issue.''
The Government has also essentially devolved Croke Park negotiations to Mr Howlin and Labour. One minister noted: "Interference by Fine Gael here has nothing to add but trouble. This is a Labour Party gig. Our only role is to act as a warning so people can say look how much worse it will be if a bete noire like Leo gets involved."