Union demands for nearly €500m in pay restoration a bluff - Howlin
Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has hit back at union officials demanding the Government offer more than €300m in pay restoration.
Union sources indicated the Government will have to offer pay hikes and pension levy cuts totalling close to €500m if it hopes to reach agreement with public sector workers.
However, Mr Howlin suggested this figure came from the unions' bluffing ahead of this week's crunch pay talks.
"I am the son of a trade union official and the general rule of thumb from a trade union side when you are asked what you want, you answer more," Mr Howlin told the Irish Independent.
The minister's comments come as pay talks enter the crucial stages of negotiation.
Mr Howlin said he would table specific proposals in terms of pay this week and he still hoped the talks would conclude within a few weeks.
He paid tribute to the sacrifices public sector workers had made during the recession.
But he believes the unions understand that the Government will not risk the recovery.
"Just as we negotiated in Haddington Road and had our books open and showed what we can afford, the Government won't put our recovery, our sustainability on the line," he said.
"We believe that the public service stood up to the plate, have taken very serious deductions in pay, we have downsized the numbers and we have a lot more work for the last four years. We want to have a path now to pay recovery but one that must be sustainable. I have no doubt that sensible trade unions understand that as well as I do."
Union officials are confident the talks will be completed by the end of the week.
"The best barometer for how these things are going is to see if they are still going. If things are not going well, the talks will break down, but so far things are progressing," a union source said.
Government and unions officials met yesterday at 2.30pm and talks went on until around 8pm.
More than a dozen sub-committees have been established to deal with specific issues such as flexi-time measures set out under the Haddington Road Agreement, and terms of employment in school completion programmes.
The spearhead group, the public service committee, is working on the main text of the agreement that will apply to almost 300,000 public sector workers.
Union officials said they expected to begin discussions on pay tomorrow. Unions have sought a flat-rate pay increase which will benefit lower paid workers more than those on higher pay.
Once a deal is agreed, unions will return to their members and put the agreement to a ballot. This is likely to take a number of months as all unions are unlikely to agree immediately.