Public pay talks are central to our future
Published 11/05/2015 | 02:30
Our public service workers deserve a pay rise. After eight years of retrenchment and two - and in some cases three - pay-cuts, the country's 300,000 public sector workers deserve a share in the emerging economic recovery.
But as public service pay talks start tomorrow, all sides must also take stock of the dangers which lie ahead. We must recall all the factors which dragged us into the mire of recession in the recent past and keep our heads now we are, at long last, facing into more hopeful times.
Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has warned of a potential legal challenge to continuing with pay policies that were introduced to meet a financial emergency that, happily, is no longer with us.
It is prudent, therefore, to engage in the orderly unwinding of draconian public pay policies and frame new deals for the future. Over the past two years, public service workers have seen the beginnings of pay awards in the private sector.
But even though the economy is recovering, there is a need to ensure remuneration, and the cost of the public service more generally, are managed to ensure they remain sustainable.
Mr Howlin said without the productivity gains made in recent years, the Government would not be in a position to discuss unwinding the curbs on pay. He also warned that change must be gradual and must not do anything to jeopardise the public finances again.
Reassuringly, the Public Expenditure Minister has warned the country could not be allowed return to "the devastating cycle of boom and bust" that had been the hallmark of previous governments. Ahead of these talks he tells us we must learn the lessons of the past decade and not repeat the mistakes that brought us to ruin.
We simply cannot build renewed and sustainable prosperity with short-term and unwise increases in Government spending. The fragile and recent economic recovery means we must persist with fiscal responsibility.
Public service pay must be approached as an investment in the productive capacity of its workforce. That is the philosophy which must inform these talks.