Friday 19 January 2018

Six months after we left bailout, front counter staff want to cash in

Anne-Marie Walsh

THE bank officials' union is the latest to go cap in hand to its members' employers after years of austerity and pay freezes.

It is only six months since the country exited the bailout, but unions representing private and public sector workers are getting their spoke in early.

The leader of the trade union movement, David Begg, put it very simply.

"Ireland needs a pay rise," he said recently.

He said it should happen in all sectors of the economy.

Unions want pay rises not tax cuts, arguing that tax cuts damage the country's ability to deliver public services, although they obviously also carry the disadvantage for them of making their role less important.

In the public sector, the Haddington Road Agreement, which cut pay for higher earners and deferred increments, is only a year old.

But unions have already raised the prospect of lodging pay claims, possibly as early as next year.

In the private sector, the manufacturing and retail industries have seen most of the pay claim activity – although generally among bigger employers whose profits are on the up.

In April, Mandate claimed it had achieved €20m in pay increases for 40,000 union members over the past 24 months, but wage increases are still the exception rather than the rule.

The prospect of wage rises at the banks is a touchy subject. Despite the banking crisis, there were no cuts in basic pay for staff during the leanest years of the recession.

It may now rankle with some taxpayers to see more money poured into wage increases at the bailed-out banks, even if some have repaid much of their debt.

The IBOA is not talking about an across-the-board percentage increase, but "rewards" for staff whose roles have changed and helped get the banks back to recovery – banks that are now in profit.

They point out that their members are not the reckless executives who caused the bailout, and their salaries average less than €45,000 a year.

In the days of social partnership, unions used to seek pay rises to keep pace with inflation.

But now that inflation is close to zero, we can probably expect more claims for moderate hikes of 2pc to 3pc in the coming months.

Irish Independent

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