Friday 24 November 2017

Best deal we could get, say unions as they begin big sell

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin speaks to the media outside Lansdowne House
Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin speaks to the media outside Lansdowne House

Anne-Marie Walsh and Fionnan Sheahan

ONE in seven – or 40,000 – public servants faces a cut in their basic wage under the new Croke Park II deal.

Now more than 290,000 public sector workers will be warned the new deal is the best they can get as they prepare to vote on the package of €1bn payroll cuts.

Government and union leaders have already begun selling the deal to public servants by warning it is the best option to avoid an acrossthe- board pay cut.

The higher paid face a major hit under the deal finally hammered out in all-night talks.

Those earning over €65,000 a year face cuts ranging from 5.5pc to 10pc.

The alternative is a governmentimposed unilateral pay cut, likely to be in the region of 7.5pc for everybody – instead of the one-in-seven hit in Croke Park II.

Unions began their sales pitch within hours of the deal being struck, as they prepared to ballot members in the coming weeks.

Government figures admitted there had been concessions in the talks, including sparing the lowpaid from direct pay cuts, targeting higher earners and the scaling back of cuts to premium pay.

But this deal is gone if the agreement is not voted through. “All bets are off in that case,” a senior government source said.

In a message to members, SIPTU said the alternative to the talks or exiting the process, as some Public Service Committee Congress Unions chose to do, "is to incur a pay reduction across all elements of pay".

The deal was struck without the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU) and UNITE.

The Garda Representative Association (GRA) and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) walked out when briefing sessions to start the negotiations were held several weeks ago.

But yesterday the Public Service Executive Union was one of the first off the mark to remind members that Taoiseach Enda Kenny would bring in legislation to cut their pay again, if they did not sign up.

"This union took part in the discussion with the stated objective of maintaining the guarantee of no compulsory redundancies and no cut in pay rates," said general secretary Tom Geraghty.

"There will be no further cuts in our members' pay rates and the commitment on redundancies has been reaffirmed."

However it is understood the deal will allow for compulsory redundancy in some very limited circumstances – such as when the public servant cannot or will not be redeployed, or is severely underperforming.

But other avenues must be exhausted before compulsory redundancy is considered.

Mr Geraghty noted that members feared they would exceed the threshold for the 'higher paid' pay cut, but this had not occurred, while increment cuts were not as bad as feared.

Unions won a number of sweeteners for their members that will help get the deal over the line, including the unravelling of a pension levy introduced by the previous government.

All public servants will get a small relief on the levy of €125 per year.

Plans to increase public servants' working hours by five hours a week were also scaled back.

In addition, the Government dropped plans to increase the distance public servants could be redeployed to 80km, from 45km.

IMPACT emphasised that management's opening position was a straight cut to pay scales for those earning €60,000 a year, "if not lower".

It said the Government had threatened to act on this regardless of whether there was a wider agreement.

Although it said the €65,000 threshold that was eventually set for a pay cut was a "political" decision, the union had got a guarantee that pay for anyone earning less than €100,000 a year may be restored in future.


The executive committees of 19 public sector unions will meet shortly to decide whether to recommend the deal, which will be rolled out from July if it is passed.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore indicated this will be the last time the Government will look to reduce the public sector payroll.

Attempting to reduce the anger of public sector workers, he floated the possibility of talks on restoring some lost pay after the 2016 General Election.

"I believe we will be in a different place and those discussions will be about the improvement of conditions," he said.

Irish Independent

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