Monday 22 May 2017

Public servants in line for token pay rise but won't get the same deal as gardaí

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Tom Burke
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Tom Burke

Anne-Marie Walsh

Public servants will not get the same deal as gardaí at government talks to prevent widespread industrial action - but they are in line for a wage increase.

The average garda got an extra €4,000 through a hike in their rent allowance and other concessions under a €50m deal to avert an unprecedented series of strikes last November.

But it would cost as much as the entire budget for next year - or almost as much as unwinding the €1.4bn of wage reductions that remain in place under emergency legislation - to give this to the rest of the public sector.

Sources close to talks that are under way between government officials and union leaders on the fallout from the Garda deal told the Irish Independent that Government has made it clear that it could not fund a similar amount for all 304,475 public servants, but is prepared to make a token gesture.

A number of options are being considered at the negotiations that are due to end this month. They include increasing a €1,000 pay rise that will be due in September under the Lansdowne Road Agreement, or paying it early.

These concessions would require an amendment to the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Fempi) legislation that cut pay during the recession.

And sources close to the talks revealed that the minister has legal powers to exclude gardaí from any benefit being given to other State employees.

Sources said they were "hopeful" an agreement could be brokered at the talks announced by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe in a bid to avoid industrial action by the State workforce.

However, unions are arguing for a commitment that the wage increase will be seen as a down payment and the additional financial gain for gardaí will gradually be refunded.

Unions' main gripe in the wake of the Garda deal was that it was unfair to their members who signed up to the Lansdowne Road Agreement that workers who refused to do so were faring better.

But this is likely to be the case as government officials have said the possibility of giving them a similar deal is out of the question.

The Government has already budgeted €290m for pay rises due this year, which included a reduction in the impact of a pension levy, imposed during the recession, this month.

Further pay rises are due in April for those earning over €65,000, while a €1,000 pay rise for those earning less than €65,000 is due on September 1.

Meanwhile, the Civil, Public and Services Union has said at the very least the payment due in September must be brought forward, but warned that a range of pay and conditions improvements are overdue.

General Secretary Eoin Ronayne warned his members in their 'Aontas' magazine they "may well have to dig deep and put our shoulders to the wheel of industrial action" if the Government fails to deliver at talks to "address the imbalance caused by the Garda outcome".

"Unpaid hours, the balance of the pay cuts and the new entry points on the clerical officer scale must be rolled back and addressed," he said.

"2017 is the year to bring restoration to low to middle-income earners at least and we must work with our sister unions to deliver that."

The 10,500 members of the Garda Representative Association and 2,500 members of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors will benefit from the €50m deal. A €500 increase in rent allowance is being paid from this month. New recruits are getting a rent allowance of €4,655 restored. In addition, rent allowance is being integrated into pay, pushing up premium pay and allowances.

Gardaí will also get extra pay for holidays and holding briefings before starting shifts.

Donohoe capitulated on wage restoration - but showed mettle by putting pensions on table in talks

In the run-up to Christmas and over the New Year, important talks have been quietly going on between a few individuals that will have a big impact on public sector workers' pockets.

Tick-tacking between Government officials and two or three senior union leaders have been under way on making some kind of financial gesture to them as a result of a €50m deal given to gardaí at the last minute to avoid what would have been the first strike in the force's history.

The pay package led to a showdown between the Government and unions who threatened strikes and a free-for-all of pay claims if their members did not get a slice of the cake.

Union leaders looked foolish because they had agreed to what now seemed a pittance for their members under the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

According to recent official statistics, gardaí enjoy among the highest average earnings in the public sector.

Gardaí had not signed up to the deal, threatened to break the law, and on the other hand, were getting much more.

If Fine Gael had addressed some of the issues being raised by gardaí for years, rather than just ignoring them, the payout would probably not have been as big, but that's another story.

Ignoring it came at a high price and a last-minute nod from someone at the top of the political hierarchy - although the Government claims the deal was purely the work of Labour Court chairman Kevin Foley - meant the average garda would end up €4,000 better off.

It was the first big test for Paschal Donohoe as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, and despite beginning his reign with a regular catchphrase that "Lansdowne Road is the only show in town", it soon became apparent that it wasn't. He capitulated to union demands for acceleration of pay restoration - which is code for more pay rises - as Siptu and others lined up with threats of industrial action if gardaí got special treatment.

The ambiguous language that ensued from Mr Donohoe was that there were "anomalies" to be dealt with as a result of the garda deal. Even by agreeing to talks, he was essentially accepting there would be a pay rise of some sort. Otherwise what would the talks be about?

This week, a consultants' report on Bus Éireann threw further light on Mr Donohoe's attitude to unions. It showed that as Minister for Transport he asked management at Bus Éireann, which is bleeding cash, to draw up restructuring plans that would avoid industrial action.

To be fair, unions do have the Government over a barrel. But Mr Donohoe has shown some mettle and brains by putting the value of pensions and job security on the table at future talks on pay rises. Hopefully, all taxpayers - not just public servants - get a fair deal.

Irish Independent

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