Tuesday 21 November 2017

Compulsory job losses will derail talks, union bosses warn

Fionnan Sheahan and Anne-Marie Walsh

UNION bosses are warning they cannot get public sector workers to accept compulsory redundancies as part of a new Croke Park deal.

But Fine Gael ministers are pushing for the contentious measure -- which would mark the end to the concept of a job for life -- to be included.

Worker representatives are describing the demand for compulsory redundancies, as revealed in yesterday's Irish Independent, as a deal-breaker in the talks aimed at saving an extra ¿1bn.

The Government threw "the kitchen sink and the copper wires" on the table as talks began on a new deal.

Although the unions are flagging their opposition to the measures tabled, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin wants to bring about long-lasting reforms -- as well as cutting the pay bill.


He is also under pressure from Fine Gael ministers, with government sources pointing to Transport Minister Leo Varadkar being the first to call for compulsory redundancies and a halt to the payment of increments.

A large number of Fine Gael ministers and TDs are believed to agree with his stance.

But they are deliberately keeping quiet on the talks to avoid antagonising the unions.

"Ministers and TDs understand the way to do this is through Howlin. The more we shut up, the better chance there is to achieve a deal," one minister said.

No specific detail was outlined at the first round of talks, but the Government outlined the proposals it intended to table under three headings -- productivity and efficiency measures, workforce reform and further pay and pension bill plans.

It put a wide range of demands on the table including:

* Extended working hours.

* Normal working week to be between hours of 8am and 8pm.

* No premium rate just for working after 5pm.

* Scrapping some premium pay rates.

* Efficient and effective rostering.

* More intensive performance assessments.

* Performance-based management contracts.

* Review of the payment of increments.

* Allowances and expenses.

* Voluntary redundancy scheme.

* Compulsory redundancy scheme.

* Cuts to pay for higher earners.

Compulsory redundancies were not specifically mentioned, but the Government said pay and pension bill measures would include cuts in non-core pay.

It said increments, pay reductions "at certain levels" and allowances would be reviewed.

Working hours, overtime, redeployment and extended opening hours at public offices were listed under productivity measures.

Under workplace reform, the Government said it would seek more flexible and faster redeployment to further distances, performance-based contracts for management grades and "robust" measures to deal with underperformance.

Union leaders immediately baulked at the prospect of compulsory redundancies being in the deal.

The chief union negotiator, Shay Cody, warned it would be "inconceivable" to broker a Croke Park II deal if it meant compulsory redundancies.


When asked how seriously he took the threat of enforced job losses, the IMPACT general secretary said: "It's out there, but it's inconceivable that there would be an agreement with that in it. It's inconceivable that people would vote for it."

IMPACT deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan also said there would be no deal if it contained compulsory redundancies.

"At the core of the public service agreement is the guarantee that there won't be compulsory redundancies and, I, for one, don't see an agreement being possible if there is any question of compulsory redundancies. It would go against the grain of what we are trying to do," he said.

Under the existing Croke Park deal, the Government can only impose compulsory redundancies in situations where public servants refuse to redeploy to new jobs.

Mr Cody said he had not come across any cases where staff refused to be redeployed.

The Government told unions it would table a large menu of proposals at the first session of the talks on an extra €1bn savings yesterday.

It said it wanted to get the cuts through agreement.

Talks will resume this afternoon and are expected to focus on organising a schedule for discussions, rather than negotiating cuts.

Civil and Public Service Union (CPSU) secretary general Eoin Ronayne said the Government's demands were extremely tough.

"Let's put it this way: they put the kitchen sink and copper wires on the table," he said. "They are sitting down to get a result – not sitting down to fail."

Irish Independent

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