Hope of agreement emerges as work practice changes on table
PUBLIC sector unions are being told the only way to avoid a direct pay cut is to sign up to a deal under the Croke Park II agreement.
Health unions branded it a "work in progress" as they adjourned the talks last night, but sources said that both sides accepted the €150m savings needed.
And there was hope of an agreement which would avoid cuts in overtime rates and premium payments by agreeing different work practices.
Management also agreed to a union request aimed at seeing if savings can be found by transferring specific duties in the hospital system.
A pilot project will take place in the Mater Hospital and Tullamore Hospital over the next fortnight before talks resume to see if the transfer of functions between junior doctors and nurses, known as "task reallocation", can deliver savings.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and the Irish Medical Organisation have put joint proposals on sharing some duties that they say would reduce overtime hours.
Nurses would take on some duties of junior doctors, such as blood-testing, allowing them to cut excessive working hours, with knock-on benefits for hospitals' overtime bills. Directors of nursing would benefit from revised proposals for people earning over €65,000.
It is also understood that nursing unions have been offered a chance to avoid having premium pay cut if they return to a 39-hour week.
Nurses currently work a 37.5-hour week, which they secured after a bitter dispute in 2007. Returning to the 39-hour week would mark a major climbdown for nurses, but mean a considerable saving for the health service in overtime payments.
Union leaders involved in talks with the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) are aware the Government is planning to legislate for pay cuts – but will give an exemption to those unions who have signed up to separate deals.
"They are going to legislate – but they will hold the door open for people who have made an agreement," one union source said.
Liam Doran, head of the INMO, said they would return to the Labour Relations Commission along with health service management in two weeks' time.
"It has now been agreed that a new phase of it is necessary in terms of some work in the field," he said.
Mr Doran said many matters were still "in play" including a 39-hour week in return for retaining the premium payments at double time on Sundays and a better starting salary for graduate recruits.
"That is all still in play – it is all forming part of the collective agreement. Some elements of that are still there. Others are still going to be problematic but nothing is signed off until everything is signed off. There is a lot to play for."
Meanwhile the new deal is expected to contain a commitment that workers will not be moved to new public service jobs beyond a 45km limit.
Some unions had warned that the Croke Park II deal could amount to "constructive dismissal" with workers having to travel 45km from their actual office instead of their home.
There were also intense discussions on flexitime, the system which allows public sector workers to take time off in return for extra hours worked.