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Varadkar warns of widespread industrial strike under Fianna Fáil government

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Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Frank McGrath

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Frank McGrath

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Frank McGrath

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has warned that the country faces the threat of “widespread industrial relations strife” under a Fianna Fáil government.

In a letter to Fórsa’s leader this afternoon, Mr Varadkar said that public servants’ wages may be frozen if the main opposition party is in power.

He warned the union’s general secretary Kevin Callinan that stagnant pay would mean staff leaving the public service, a loss of morale and “a return to the type of widespread industrial relations strife” that “we have all worked hard to avoid”.

Mr Varadkar said the main opposition party has “not allocated a single cent” for a new public sector pay deal over the course of the next five years in its manifesto.

He said even a generous analysis of Fianna Fáil’s figures would only provide for a 1.6pc annual pay increase.

Mr Varadkar said his party has provided €2bn over the four years to 2025 for a new wage pact.

He told Mr Callinan he would be grateful if the union leader would advise his members of the party’s commitment to a new deal and the financial allocation in its manifesto.

“We believe that it is also important that you advise your members of the failure of Fianna Fáil to dedicate a single cent towards a public pay deal in their manifesto,” he said.

He said if returned to office, his party’s allocation will provide the basis for the negotiation of a new long-term pay deal providing for sustainable pay increases for hard-working public servants.

It would also provide the basis for the repeal of FEMPI, the resolution of other long-standing issues of concern to the public sector unions like different pay scales for recent entrants and reforms that enable citizens to receive better public services, he said.

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“At the end of the agreement, the FEMPI Act pay reductions will be reversed for all public servants earning up to €70,000, which equates to almost 90pc of public servants,” he said.
“In contrast with that, the main opposition party, Fianna Fáil has not allocated a single cent for a new public pay deal over the course of the next five years in their manifesto..

“This could mean a pay freeze for your members once the Public Service Stability Agreement expires. “

The Taoiseach said a time of approaching full-employment and challenges in many areas of the public service in terms of recruitment, such a pay freeze will inevitably lead to staff leaving the public service.

He said this would create a loss of morale among those who remain, and a return to the type of widespread industrial relations strife that “we have all worked hard to avoid”.

Mr Varadkar said through the course of the Fine Gael-led government, his party has acknowledged the hard work of public servants and the need for fair public pay deals that work for public servants, users of public services and the tax-payer.
He noted that the government agreed the current pay deal – the Public Service Stability Agreement – with the union.

Benefits ranged from 7.4pc to 6.2pc over three years, he said, and up to 10pc for new entrant members of the Single Public Service Pension Scheme.

Earlier, the largest public sector union said the main political parties will face a “very difficult negotiation“ on a wage agreement in power based on their spending plans.

In a statement today, Fórsa warned the parties against holding “back real public service wages for another half-decade”.

Fórsa was reacting after Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said Fianna Fail could “not be trusted” because it had budgeted €1.2bn for a new pay agreement, at the weekend.

He said this meant state employees would receive only a 1.2pc pay increase over the next five years.

In contrast, Mr Donohoe said Fine Gael had budgeted €2bn for public sector pay over the next five years that would mean pay hikes of 2.5pc.

Fórsa is preparing to negotiate a successor to the current wage deal once a government is formed after the election.

The current three year Public Service Stability Agreement that includes a 2pc pay hike in October expires at the end of this year.

“The current pay deal – the Public Service Stability Agreement – expires in December 2020 and we have raised the need to negotiate a successor with all the main political parties,” said a Fórsa spokesperson.

“It would be wrong to pre-empt the outcome before negotiations even open.”

However, he said figures that have emerged in the general election campaign suggest the two largest parties are budgeting for continued public service “real wage stagnation”.

He said they suggest annual increases of, at most, between 1.3pc and 2.1pc.

At the same time, he said the Central Statistics Office says average private sector earnings rose by nearly 4pc in the year to September last year.

He said experts, including the union-backed Nevin Economic Research Institute, are predicting annual wage growth of 3.5pc or more in the coming years.

“We would be facing into a very difficult negotiation if both the main political parties are budgeting to hold back real public service wages for another half-decade,” he said.

He said the union has called for increases beyond inflation to reflect economic improvements over the last three years.

The union also wants the parties to reverse measures including extra working hours that were introduced during the economic crisis.

Meanwhile, money to restore pay equality for teachers is factored into Fine Gael’s €2bn cheque for the next public sector pay deal, according to Education Minister Joe McHugh.

“We know that pay for new teachers is unfinished business that we want to sort out,” the minister said.

Outstanding issues around two-tier pay scales have come centre stage in the election with one teacher union planning to a one-day stoppage next Tuesday that will close hundreds of second-level schools.

Teachers; Union of Ireland (TUI) president Seamus Lahart said they were taking action because dispute a commitment on the issue last April “ the silence of Government on this unacceptable injustice remains deafening.

In a separate move, the other second level teacher union, the ASTII, is also ramping up pressure with plans for a ballot on strike action in coming weeks.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (NITNO) is keeping  faith with ongoing “talks about talks”, leading up to negotiations on the next public sector pay deal - for the moment, at least.

Launching the Fine Gael  education proposals today, Mr McHugh said, last April  he had made the commitment, in conjunction with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, (DEPER) to address the pay inequality issue.

He said he would assume that if there was not a general election, “we could be looking at the start of these public sector pay talks; they will start very soon and we will be looking for conclusion  by the end of the year.

“We will deal with this unfinished business” the minister said, adding that he was “confident  that we will be in a very, very good and confident place come January 2021”.

He repeated his appeal to teacher unions to deal  with the issue through  pay talks machinery.


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