Monday 11 December 2017

'It's payback time - and squeezed middle must be ready to strike,' warns union chief

Eoin Ronayne says public staff on lower wages are hurting. Photo: Douglas O'Connor
Eoin Ronayne says public staff on lower wages are hurting. Photo: Douglas O'Connor

Anne-Marie Walsh

Civil servants must be prepared for industrial action if they don't get their money back at new talks, a union leader has warned.

General secretary of the Civil, Public and Services Union (CPSU) Eoin Ronayne said his lower-middle income members did not get big benefits from the current public sector pay deal and they believe it is "payback time".

He was referring to civil servants who earn between €29,000 and €45,000.

Mr Ronayne estimated about €2,500 a year each remained to be restored to them of the €2bn cuts slashed from public servants' wages during the financial crisis.

They want new pay rises to be included in the Budget, and paid before the current deal runs out in September next year, and to be taken fully out of the cuts within two years.

The Lansdowne Road Agreement targeted the lowest paid by giving public servants flat-rate wage hikes, which were far less valuable to those on higher wages.

But Mr Ronayne said there was a squeezed group earning between €29,000 and the mid-€40,000s who had "huge expectations" and "that's the bulk of the public service".

He said his members, who worked as clerical officers, expected talks on a successor deal to bring their pay back to where it was in 2008, before the financial cuts hit.

"It won't be possible to sell any agreement to people nine years since austerity hit that means otherwise," he said, speaking ahead of his union's annual conference this Friday. "It's not going to run."

He added: "There's a squeezed middle and those people feel they didn't get a good deal under the Lansdowne Road Agreement, and the reality is, we backed it - we haven't traditionally backed national agreements because it was possible to show our members that our very lowest earners, on the €22,000s, were going to benefit most.

"But they see now, it's their payback."

He said members would need to be prepared for industrial action if talks failed to roll back the pay cuts.

There must also "be a willingness" to address unpaid hours and a pay rise for the lowest earners on entry points introduced during the financial crisis, he added.

"These are critical talks as there will be competing demands on an inevitably limited pot," he said.

"I think it's an important thing that the Government understands that the envelope can't be as narrow as the Government might want it to be."

When asked about recent comments by Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Paschal Donohoe signalling that extra hours being worked for free under a previous deal are here to stay, Mr Ronayne said "everyone is going to posture and position themselves".

He questioned the value of the extra 30 minutes tagged on to his members' working day, which pushed up childcare costs for some.

Irish Independent

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