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Saturday 30 August 2014

Unions press for pay increases as economy shows signs of recovery

Anne-Marie Walsh and Luke Byrne

Published 12/04/2014 | 02:30

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David Begg, the leader of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Photo:Arthur Carron/Collins
David Begg, the leader of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Photo:Arthur Carron/Collins

A MAJOR push is under way within the union movement for worker pay hikes amid signs of economic recovery.

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David Begg, leader of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, has backed calls for post-troika wage rises, as two unions push for pay increases.

The Civil, Public and Services Union, representing lower paid civil servants, is to mount a campaign for restoration of pay lost under the last two cost-cutting deals with the Government.

And the National Bus and Railworkers Union, representing staff at Bus Eireann and Dublin Bus, has already submitted a claim for pay increases of over 6pc at both com- panies.

Companies who could afford it should pay up, he said.

"It would be very foolish of anybody to force a pay increase on an industry that would put them out of business, or where jobs would be lost," he said at the ICTU conference 'A New Course for Better Times'.

"The economy is mixed, and there are sectors which can afford a pay rise and I think where they can be afforded, they should be pursued."

He said about 40pc of private sector firms had already negotiated pay increases over the last couple of years.

Mr Begg added that there was a need for some social partnership-type model to ensure the long-term stability of the country, but said there were "mixed signals" from Government.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, who spoke at the same conference, refused to say if she backed Mr Begg's call for pay rises. When asked if she supported his view, she said the critical thing was to get people back to work and ensure they could survive.

"I've spoken about a living wage, and a fair wage, and I think that's critical in terms of the people who are still, if you like, locked out in terms of employment," said the minister, whose department runs the Jobbridge scheme. "That's my first priority".

However, she hinted that she was open to renewed talks between unions and the Government.

She said unions would be "central" in the battle for a "new social democratic settlement".

IMPROVE

Mr Begg's comments come as unions representing most public servants – SIPTU and IMPACT – indicated they will seek pay rises if the government finances improve during the Haddington Road deal.

IMPACT leader Shay Cody said it was a "certainty" that pay rises would be sought for the country's 287,780 public servants if the state finances improved. Mr Cody, who represents over 63,500 staff, said "income recovery" would be top of his union's agenda at its annual conference next month.

"It will be a certainty that unions will be submitting a claim if the government situation improves, but that improvement has to manifest itself first," he said.

Sources said the trigger for a public sector pay claim would be a fall in the government deficit below 3pc of GDP, although that is unlikely to happen this year. They said it might be expected during the second half of next year.

Meanwhile, the NBRU has asked Bus Eireann and Dublin Bus for a pay rise due to "the first green shoots of recovery after five years of recession".

It includes 6pc due under previous social partnership deals, and a percentage – to be negotiated – to reflect the cost of living.

Irish Independent

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