THOUSANDS of workers at seven commercial semi-state companies have received or will get pay rises of up to 6pc despite the economic downturn.
An Irish Independent survey has revealed that more than a fifth of the state-owned bodies paid one or both instalments of the last national pay deal -- worth 3.5pc and 2.5pc -- even though the last government walked away from the agreement.
More than 600 staff at the Irish Aviation Authority, who earn an average of €95,600 a year and already got the first 3.5pc increase, will get the second instalment of 2.5pc next month.
Another 144 staff at Dublin Port Company have already got both pay rises, while staff at the ESB, Bord Gais, Coillte, the Irish Greyhound Board, and Horse Racing Ireland have received the first pay instalment.
The extent of the pay rises comes to light as pressure mounts on the Government to decide whether to sanction a €5m pay rise due to over 1,000 staff at Bord na Mona.
Although workers at some of the 32 commercial semi-states have received the social partnership pay rises, more than 300,000 public servants have not enjoyed any.
This is because the government walked away from the pay deal in February 2009 and brought in a pay freeze as the country sank into recession.
However, the wage increases have been paid at some of the profitable commercial semi-states -- who could not prove they could not afford them -- since 2009 after unions lodged pay claims at the Labour Court.
Although the companies are not bound to honour the court's recommendations, they have historically followed them. But employer groups have urged the Government to use its shareholding in the commercial semi-states to prevent further pay rises.
Communications and Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte recently said he believed the board of Bord na Mona should "have regard to the current economic situation" when considering the 3.5pc pay rise.
Yesterday, Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association chief executive Mark Fielding said: "The country can't afford it. They (semi-state bodies) are probably profitable because of the amount of money the State has put into them.
"There is €50bn going out and €32bn coming in in tax. We're dependent on money we got around a week ago from the IMF to pay directly-employed public servants. Reality hasn't hit these people. The fact is that the Government owns them and it doesn't have two brass farthings to rub together, and people on hospital trolleys can't get into nursing homes," he said.
Employers' group IBEC said the vast majority of private sector employers were implementing pay freezes, while another 10pc planned pay cuts.
"The reality is that pay adjustments are only arising in the most exceptional of circumstances, and usually where there has been an exceptional change or increased productivity," said director Brendan McGinty.
Our investigation showed that seven of the 32 semi-states have given pay rises under the deal, but three others didn't respond and the Shannon Foynes Port Company refused to comment.
Most of the semi-state staff did not get the national pay increases and many took pay cuts, including workers at the Dublin Airport Authority. Staff earning more than €30,000 a year took cuts from 5pc to 12pc.