Thursday 22 August 2019

Government to be hit with deluge of public sector pay claims in autumn

Union declares workers have lost faith in wage deal

Kevin Callinan. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Kevin Callinan. Picture: Steve Humphreys

Anne-Marie Walsh

The Government faces the threat of a deluge of pay claims from public servants as it grapples with the growing risk of a hard Brexit.

Trade union Fórsa's new leader, Kevin Callinan, warned the Public Service Stability Agreement is unravelling as State workers have lost confidence in it following a series of high-profile disputes.

He also revealed that the Public Service Pay Commission - seen by workers as a forum to advance claims on the back of recruitment and retention issues - is being wound up.

Mr Callinan, who heads up the country's largest union for State workers with 80,000 members, is the chief negotiator for all public service unions with the Government.

He said he was told there was "no political mandate" to meet union demands at a meeting with Department of Public Expenditure and Reform officials two weeks ago.

Unions had sought a review of the current pay deal with additional increases to reflect the cost of living after nurses got a settlement worth more than €35m to halt strikes earlier this year.

"We're very disappointed at the failure of the Government to respond to date with positive proposals, given that we've raised these important issues," he said.

"And the loss of confidence in the agreement that was apparent in February and March has increased since then.

"Our sense of the instability of the agreement has increased since then.

"The largest public sector union that was not just a supporter but the lynch-pin of centralised agreements is now considering moving into an alternative approach," he added.

"It could lead to a free for all obviously if we didn't have a structure."

Mr Callinan said the deal had been "stretched" since the nurses' dispute earlier this year.

He added that instability had followed rows involving health support staff, gardaí and psychiatric nurses.

"People are certainly seeing that there seems to be a reward if you take a more liberal approach to the agreement," he said.

However, he said at the last meeting of the public service union leadership with government officials it was made clear there was no political mandate to meet their demands.

The Fórsa executive has since taken a "significant" decision that if there wasn't progress by early September it would advise branches to start formulating claims in mid-October, he said.

This would be accompanied by an "industrial strategy to be rolled out in due course".

When asked about the likelihood of industrial action, he did not rule it out.

"If people move into the space of formulating pay claims and deciding how those claims may need to be supported, then things gain their own momentum," he said.

The union leader said the economy was "flying" since the current pay deal was brokered while inflation was predicted to rise by 4pc during its timeframe.

When put to him that it may be bad timing to be looking for more money as Brexit looms, he acknowledged the country was facing a period of uncertainty.

"It's not a good time to allow a centralised approach to public service pay negotiation to unravel in a set of competing demands from all sorts of groups, without a structured approach," he said.

The possibility of negotiating a successor agreement could also prove impossible, he added.

He said claims by public servants may be made on a number of fronts, including pay, productivity, recruitment and retention or change- related issues.

Mr Callinan was also concerned that a mechanism is found to replace the Public Service Pay Commission after it is wound up following one final report.

"If the pay commission is being wound up, which it is, then it's essential that some mechanism is put in place to restore confidence among ordinary public servants and trade union members," he added.

Mr Callinan would not specify the value of pay increases that may be demanded at talks.

Public servants are already due a 1.75pc wage hike in September this year. This is to be followed by a 2pc hike in October next year.

"Of course, we feel there is a case that there should be an adjustment in the pay terms but we haven't specifically said that that has to be reflected in the Budget for October," he said.

Irish Independent

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