Tuesday 26 September 2017

Special deals nothing new as public sector wage agreement continues to unravel

Brendan Howlin Picture: Tom Burke
Brendan Howlin Picture: Tom Burke

Anne-Marie Walsh

The Government is trying to negotiate special deals with gardaí and teachers while at the same time saying it cannot negotiate special deals under the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

The bottom line is that the Lansdowne Road deal is unravelling.

It has been unravelling since the last minister for public expenditure and reform and now Labour leader, Brendan Howlin, did a special deal for Siptu on his way out the door that meant firefighters would get their rent allowance back. The allowance worth over €4,000 would become part of their basic pay.

Now out of power, Mr Howlin, who negotiated the Lansdowne Road Agreement to ensure the orderly unwinding of emergency legislation that cut public servants' wages, is calling for the acceleration of pay restoration.

This would mean faster pay rises for public servants in recognition of the pay cuts they suffered during the economic crash.

A total of €290m has already been allocated to cover pay rises next year under the deal, not that far short of the €301m budget to boost social welfare recipients' payments.

Even the unions who signed up to the Lansdowne Road Agreement expect to start talks to 'accelerate' pay restoration early next year.

They aim to get more pay rises before the deal runs out in September 2018.

But even if this happens, the agreement will no longer be the original deal.

The original deal is very clear.

It allows for the restoration of pay cuts in three tranches up to September 2018, worth about €2,000 per employee. Last January and September, the so-called pension levy was eased and there was a 1pc increase in salaries. And on September 1, 2018, salaries up to €65,000 are due to increase by €1,000.

The agreement also says "there will be no cost-increasing claims for improvements in pay or conditions of employment by trade unions, garda and defence force associations or employees during the period of the agreement".

And they are obliged to maintain a "well managed industrial relations environment".

Yet, this Government and the last, and the unions that signed up to the Lansdowne Road Agreement maintain that recent deals that have boosted the pay of some public servants and next year's planned talks on additional pay rises will not breach the big deal.

Special deals that have been struck include concessions to the Teachers Union of Ireland and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors to back the Lansdowne Road Agreement in reballots, as well as unsocial hour payments for nurses.

Messing around with allowances is one thing, but it was Garda demands to accelerate the payment of wage increases before union leaders expect this to play out for their members that has led them to declare publicly that the Lansdowne pact is in danger of collapse.

In other words, if the gardaí get any concessions on pay rises, their members are walking too.

"We came into this together and we are going out of it together," is now the union leaders' stock response to the Government's industrial relations dilemma.

If the Department of Justice can steer gardaí and teachers towards a deal on items that do not have the appearance of pay restoration, it may be able to claim that the Lansdowne Road deal is still intact and avoid unprecedented industrial action.

But concessions already given to other groups are likely to trigger more claims as the public service industrial relations climate becomes a free-for-all. The Government may face demands for allowances, the abolition of two-tier pay for recruits, or concessions on extra hours worked.

Irish Independent

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