Tuesday 27 September 2016

Securing future starts at public sector pay talks

Published 19/05/2015 | 02:30

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin long ago publicly conceded that the two, and in some cases three, pay cuts imposed on public service workers were under the so-called Fempi emergency legislation
Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin long ago publicly conceded that the two, and in some cases three, pay cuts imposed on public service workers were under the so-called Fempi emergency legislation

Few of us will quibble with public service workers getting a pay rise. It has been a long and tough road since the 300,000 staff got their last increase in September 2008. And they have definitely contributed to the country's economic recovery.

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Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin long ago publicly conceded that the two, and in some cases three, pay cuts imposed on public service workers were under the so-called Fempi emergency legislation. It is clear that Mr Howlin would have difficulty proving in any legal case that the country was still in deep recession.

So, he has wisely made a virtue of necessity, and staved off the prospect of losing a likely court challenge from the public service unions that would end with an abrupt €2bn pay bill for court-ordered increases. All of that brings us to talks which are set to begin in earnest today and take at least several weeks to complete.

The public service union leaders go into these talks with considerable right on their side. They have given wise leadership over the past seven years as their members absorbed 20pc cuts and overall public service numbers fell by 10pc. Unlike other recession-stricken states there has been no significant public service industrial action.

We expect the Government to allocate between €250m and €300m for pay restoration. This would see public servants be paid between €800 and €1,000 more in gross yearly pay. Fairness should dictate that any deal be targeted at low earners in particular, and the unions will press for a flat-rate increase that would be more beneficial to the low-paid. There is also a logic in scaling back the public service pension levy, which currently averages about 7pc.

But we must remember that this country's long-term debt remains dangerously high and we would effectively be borrowing in this current year to fund extra public servants' pay. With all of that in mind, it is no exaggeration to say that a prudent and workable outcome to these talks is vital to secure all our futures.

Continued public service reforms must be on the agenda. It is the only way we can avoid repeating past mistakes.

Irish Independent

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