Sunday 20 October 2019

Coalition gets set for pay cuts if Croke Park not saved

Fionnan Sheahan and Michael Brennan

THE Government has begun taking advice from the Attorney General on options for legislation to impose public sector pay cuts if there is no Croke Park II deal.

The country's industrial relations trouble-shooter has been given another week to talk to unions about revised proposals to break the impasse.

But the Coalition is gearing up to impose pay cuts on public sector workers if Labour Relations Commission chief executive Kieran Mulvey cannot put the Croke Park II deal back together.

The prospect of a batch of side deals being struck with individual unions to get them on board is also being mooted in union circles.

Although such a scenario would mean Croke Park II would still be rejected overall, it would ensure workers that did sign up to its terms would avoid being hit by direct pay cuts.

Getting some unions on board would make the imposition of pay cuts on the rest an easier task politically for the Government.

Mr Mulvey has asked for another week to advise the Government if unions were likely to accept specific reworked proposals.

"We're giving it every opportunity, but it is still very difficult. We would have to be confident that a deal is on offer.

"And you'd want to be reasonably certain where it was going to land," a coalition source said.

But the Government has already sent a warning to public sector unions about pay cuts being on the cards unless they agree to a deal.

The Coalition confirmed last night "initial discussions" have begun between Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin's officials and the Attorney General's office regarding the legal "options" available.

Coalition sources also say legislation will have to be passed, whether there is a deal or not.

"There was always going to be legislation required. But you need to know your options."

The Government says "no decision" has been taken on what form the legislation will take yet.

Ministers will wait until next week's cabinet meeting when Mr Mulvey will make his final report on the prospects of a reworked deal.

"While no government decision has been made regarding the nature of any legislation to be tabled, it is the case that initial discussions on the options available to the Government have commenced between the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Attorney General's office," a spokesperson said.

The Croke Park II deal was intended to save €1bn over the next three years – starting with €300m this year.

But following intense negotiations, the deal was rejected last month in a ballot of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions' 20 public unions.

The deal, which was due to be rolled out from July, would have meant cuts to premium pay, an increase in working hours, freezes and delays in increments and a pay cut of 5.5pc and above for those earning over €65,000.

In the wake of its rejection, the Government asked Mr Mulvey to talk to the unions and assess if the deal could be resurrected.

Mr Mulvey has now briefed Mr Howlin on the progress of his "prolonged series of meetings" over the last number of weeks with unions in the wake of the Croke Park II rejection.

Mr Howlin gave Mr Mulvey an extension of time to put deals together.

Government and union sources alike say the process now is about exploring other ways of finding agreement.

One potential outcome would be individualised proposals for each group of public sector workers. This would involve getting their unions to ballot on them separately. This would represent a break from the original Croke Park Agreement.

Irish Independent

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