Unions hit stumbling blocks in overnight pay talks
Published 29/03/2010 | 05:00
CRUCIAL talks on reversing pay cuts for more than 300,000 public servants in return for reforms were continuing last night -- but there were still major obstacles to be overcome.
The negotiations that could bring an end to a disruptive campaign of industrial action were expected to go through the night, due to significant disagreements.
Government and the unions have still not got down to discussions on the substantive issue of restoring levels of pay.
Any deal will hinge on an exchange of a government promise to review wages at a future date if unions sign up to its plans to transform the public sector.
But the Government will not get into hard bargaining on pay until it has agreement on key elements of its plans to radically transform the public sector -- and there are still major stumbling blocks in the health sector.
Sources revealed that its plan to introduce 'five days over seven days' working, which would wipe out premium pay for weekend work, was being opposed by SIPTU.
Another of the Government's key proposals -- a longer working day from 8am to 8pm -- was also being blocked by some unions.
But sources said a deal was "doable" and that the majority of public sector unions were prepared to sign up to an agreement that would mean a reversal of pay cuts over time, even if it was not backed by all the unions. This could mean that the union for lower-paid civil servants, the Civil, Public and Services Union (CPSU), which has threatened strike action at the Passport Office if the current negotiations fail, could be left to go it alone.
The CPSU has insisted that the pay cuts be reversed this year but sources revealed that most other unions now accepted that pay cuts would not be restored during 2010.
Senior union sources said they would ask the Government to guarantee it would not cut pay again and to set future dates to 'review' pay levels.
If these reviews showed that savings had been made under key reforms, then earnings would be boosted.
"The majority of unions accept that the CPSU's declared position is not going to be delivered.
"There is no way the Finance Minister would agree to that this year and if it comes to the crunch, they will probably do a deal without them," said one source.
Unions admit that a final deal without hard figures on the amount of pay to be refunded may be hard to sell to their members.
With this in mind, they will seek a provision that the lower-paid, who suffered a 5pc cut on wages below €30,000, would have pay reversed more quickly than other grades.
It is also understood that unions will seek a clause that the Government could not walk away from it in the event of another economic 'shock'.
Chief union negotiator Peter McLoone said: "If we fail, it won't be for lack of effort."