Howlin warns public sector workers pay talks must be based on realism
The Government does not have a "greenfield site" available to overhaul the pay of 300,000 public servants, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has warned.
Mr Howlin insisted he is not prepared to repeat the mistakes of the Fianna Fáil government, which agreed a wave of pay hikes in the public sector that it could not afford to deliver.
The Labour Party politician heaped praise on public sector workers, who he said "have done what their country needed of them" while their counterparts in other countries chose to go on strike.
But writing in today's Irish Independent, Mr Howlin said the pay talks must be based on "realism".
And he added that the restoration of pay "will not be as much as some might wish".
And in a clear indication that the Government will enter the talks with a set of demands, Mr Howlin said workers must be willing to increase productivity and adapt to future reforms.
"Reform is the new normal and will be driven into the future, as it will be in the private sector, by issues like how we use data and information technology to drive further productivity gains," Mr Howlin said.
"Public servants know that well and will, I believe, rise to those challenges," he added.
Today's talks in Dublin will entail the agreement of a "road map" for further negotiations which could ultimately last several months.
They will focus on unwinding the so-called FEMPI legislation, introduced as an emergency measure by the former finance minister, the late Brian Lenihan.
Senior Government figures say they will outline the level of funds available which is expected to be in the region of €250m, a third of the overall spending power in October's budget.
One of the first issues up for debate will be the public sector pension levy, which averages 7.5pc on salaries.
SIPTU President Jack O'Connor this week called for the abolition of the pension levy - a call not being ruled out by Government sources.
And speaking yesterday, Tánaiste Joan Burton said the issue of the pension levy is likely to be considered.
The Labour Party leader said she expects talks to focus mainly on restoring the pay of low- to middle-income earners.
But in a clear warning that the Government will not succumb to unreasonable demands, Mr Howlin suggested that the talks may not result in a pay deal at all.
He also suggested that he will not allow the task at hand to jeopardise the current economic recovery.
"Today's talks are a beginning to the process of a sustainable pay arrangement for public servants," Mr Howlin said.
"I do not know if they will be successful. But, I expect that all sides to these discussions will meet with the aim and intention of making an agreement that is fair to all involved - those who avail of public services, and public servants themselves - and an agreement that sustains the continuing economic recovery," he said.