News Irish News

Friday 20 October 2017

Public sector pay deal talks near 'endgame' as pressure mounts to broker deal before new Taoiseach

Stock photo
Stock photo

Anne-Marie Walsh

ALL public servants bar the highest paid may be free of pay cuts imposed during the financial crisis under proposals tabled at talks on a new pay deal.

Sources said government officials proposed that workers earning up to €65k would no longer feel the effects of wage reductions rolled out under emergency legislation by 2021 and those earning more than that by 2023.

They are being asked to make a higher permanent contribution towards their pensions - but this will not cost them more than they are already paying in a pension levy imposed during the recession.

Talks are moving towards endgame today as pressure mounts to broker a deal before the appointment of the new Taoiseach next week and to allow time for unions to ballot members.

Sources revealed that a three year deal is being discussed in which pay rises that are likely to be back-loaded, although potentially less than 1pc would be paid next year due to a tight budget.

The government has said the top limit on its spending is €200m in 2018 but there are demands on this other than wage increases.

Proposals being discussed would also mean that state workers would have to pay more on a permanent basis towards their pensions.

However, they would not end up paying more than they are already paying in a €720m pension levy that was imposed during the recession, worth an average 5pc of pay.

Government officials want €550m of the levy to stay in place in the form of a permanent contribution, to be paid on top of existing contributions. This is to reflect a 12pc to 18pc gap between public and private sector pensions, which have collapsed since the recession struck.

It is understood that a three-tier pension system would be rolled out, in which public servants on the most gold-plated pension benefits would make the highest contribution. They include gardai, prison officers, judges and the defence forces who are members of fast accrual schemes that allow them to retire on a full pension with less than 40 years service.

Sources said they would continue to pay the full levy, while those who joined the public service prior to 2013 would pay a lower amount. Those who joined after 2013 would pay least as they are on a far less generous scheme, although unions are arguing they should be exempt.

There are still big stumbling blocks to an agreement including government proposals to create new rules when out-sourcing services that would allow potential contractors to compete on wage costs.

Government officials are holding the line that 15 million extra unpaid hours being worked under a previous deal are kept in place, which is being opposed by many unions. However, it is understood it has softened its stance on extending Saturday working across the public sector, and is likely to agree to refer the issue into a process for further negotiation.

Bernard Harbor of the main public sector union Impact said he believes agreement can be reached at the talks although some union sources were more pessimistic.

When asked if a deal could be struck in the next 48 hours, Mr Harbor said: "We really need to see what money is available for any deal before I can really answer that question."

General Secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, Liam Doran, said the government will have to find extra cash to fund pay increases for nurses because of recruitment and retention problems.

"The government is going to have to use a wider lens and more imagination," he said.

President of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, Antoinette Cunningham, said her members will "absolutely resist" any attempt to make those on fast accrual pensions pay more than other public servants.

Ciaran Rohan of the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants said that there is an issue recruiting senior managers and their salaries would have to be addressed.

"I think our members would be very unhappy if we were left behind," he said.

In a message to members, Siptu said the talks have entered the end game.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News