Private sector pay rises must be first: O'Connor
Published 25/04/2014 | 02:30
The head of the country's largest trade union has insisted that private sector workers "must" be the first to benefit from any pay rises linked to economic recovery.
SIPTU president Jack O'Connor, whose union represents 200,000 public and private sector workers, called on the Government to prioritise pay increases ahead of proposed tax cuts.
His comments were at odds with earlier demands yesterday from the Public Service Executive Union (PSEU) which said its members should be "first in the queue" for improved pay.
PSEU president Brendan Lawless claimed his civil servant members, who are paid on average €35,000-€50,000, should be "first" for any wage hikes.
"To put it more bluntly, if the Government has scope for easing on austerity, we want our money back," Mr Lawless said.
But Mr O'Connor insisted that the private sector should be the first beneficiary of any future hikes in pay.
"The first to benefit from pay rises must be those in the private sector, before being extended to other areas such as the public sector," he said.
While Mr O'Connor said he did not agree with a "queue analogy", he pointed out that public sector workers lost an average of 18pc of pay.
However, he said certain other groups in the private sector had lost far more than this.
Several government ministers have hinted strongly that there will be tax cuts in the next Budget, but unions are now increasingly focusing on pay increases.
"Our view is that the key to intensifying the momentum in the economy must be pay increases," Mr O'Connor added.
Government sources last night said they are now prepared for a "domino effect" whereby other unions will follow suit and demand pay increases.
"The last thing we need is for unions to be upping the ante so soon after we left the bailout," said one minister.
The emphasis on pay rises intensified at the annual conference of the Public Service Executive Union, which represents mid-ranking workers.
The union's national conference in Killarney heard that a "disproportionate amount" of rectifying of the public finances had fallen on public servants.
Now that signs of life were coming back into the economy, it was time for "restoration" and for "pay back" and public sector pay claims might be lodged as early as 2015, delegates were told.
But the remarks by Mr O'Connor and the PSEU are sure to put the Government on alert for any further demands overs pay and conditions.
The flurry of demands for wage hikes comes amid growing fears that union leaders will seek a partial unravelling of the Haddington Road pay deal.
But last night the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform appeared to pour cold water on the idea of any pay hikes in the short term.
"Public service pay policy is currently determined by the Haddington Road Agreement, which was a binding agreement and was agreed to by all parties involved," said a spokesman for Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin. "The agreement was essential to Ireland's successful exit from the EU/ IMF programme and is key to Ireland's continuing recovery."
Employers' group IBEC also insisted that the Government's priority must be tax cuts before pay rises, with director general Danny McCoy adding: "The Government, as an employer, is not in a position to start making pay increases.
"We are only coming back from a trough. We are not at pre-crisis level yet. And while it's understandable for the public sector to have aspirations for pay restoration, it's simply too early."
Mr McCoy said he was in favour of tax cuts being introduced ahead of pay increases which he said was "equal across the board, private and public".
However, PSEU president Brendan Lawless disagreed that tax cuts should be the priority.
"The message needs to go from public servants to the political system that tax cuts damage the ability to deliver public services," he said.
"Those who have suffered disproportionately from austerity through income cuts and longer working hours deserve, and indeed demand, that they be treated fairly and that they begin restoration of their losses at the earliest opportunity."
Revenue staff represents the biggest branch in the PSEU, whose membership extends across the executive level of government and the Courts Service.