Sunday 24 June 2018

Celtic Tiger pay 'will not return' for public sector

No new deals for teachers, nurses, gardai - minister warns

Newly appointed Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Collins
Newly appointed Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Collins
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Newly appointed Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe has warned public sector unions that there will be no new wage deals for at least two years - dashing their hopes of a return to Celtic Tiger pay levels.

In his first significant intervention since being appointed, Mr Donohoe said all unions should sign up to the Lansdowne Road Agreement in the coming weeks as it is the "only show in town" and insisted he will not be increasing public sector pay beyond the deal.

The minister's warning comes as teaching, nursing and Garda unions continue to resist the pay deal, which will cost the taxpayer €844m over the next three years and see public servants' salaries increase by up to €2,000 a year.

Unions are insisting the deal does not go far enough and are holding out for further pay increases for members.

Last week, Mr Donohoe met with the Public Services Committee of Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), who told the minister its members are expecting significantly higher pay hikes due to the growing economy.

However, the minister told the Sunday Independent "nothing can be allowed" put the economic recovery at risk and insisted any government policy on pay must "make sense to the taxpayer".

"In respect of the Haddington Road and Lansdowne Road agreements, it is crucial that those unions who have not yet signed up, do so in the coming weeks," he said.

"It's the only game in town. Not signing up will hurt our reform efforts and reduce our ability to deliver better public service in the future," he added. Mr Donohoe said he will be "firm but fair" in his dealings with the unions in the coming month.

Under the Lansdowne Road Agreement, the Government has ring-fenced €267m for pay restoration this year, €290m in 2017 and €287m in 2018. However, some unions are refusing to sign off on the agreement.

The Irish Nurses and Midwife Organisation recently demanded a review of the deal and called for a full restoration of pay to pre-recession levels.

The Garda Representative Association is also calling for pay cuts to be immediately reversed.

The Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland (ASTI) is planning to ballot its members asking them to withdraw support for additional working hours agreed under the Croke Park Agreement.

The Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI), however, recently urged its members to sign up to the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

The agreement followed a deal struck with firefighters by former public expenditure and reform minister, Brendan Howlin, with certain allowances which were stripped from new recruits, restored fully. The teaching union said it was assured a similar allowance will be available to teachers under Lansdowne Road, but it is unclear what level of pay restoration will be reached.

Negotiation on the restoration of allowances is permitted under Lansdowne Road.

Mr Donohoe said the decision by the TUI is "a sign of the progress that can be made" when the Government and unions work together. But, he warned any proposals will have to make sense for the taxpayer and "deliver for our society".

"In terms of public service pay, I say, in the strongest terms possible, that I, and the Government, will be standing by the Lansdowne Road Agreement as the only framework possible for managing the needs of our public service while delivering the services that our country and our people need," he said.

"Both Haddington Road and the Lansdowne Road agreements must be implemented in their entirety as the best way forward in terms of pay policy, while also continuing to reform work practices and deliver a public service that is held up as a model for others," he added.

Ahead of the General Election, Fianna Fail pushed for the full restoration of public sector pay through the complete unwinding of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Fempi) legislation, which imposed public sector pay cuts, within two years. However, in its agreement with Fine Gael to facilitate a minority government, Fianna Fail signed up to the gradual and negotiated unwinding of Fempi.

It also signed up to the full implementation of the Lansdowne Road Agreement with the time frames set out in the deal.

Sunday Independent

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