Monday 14 October 2019

€700m pay demands loom for Government on top of €1.1bn deal

'Royal battle': Siptu leader Paul Bell has warned the Government. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
'Royal battle': Siptu leader Paul Bell has warned the Government. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Anne-Marie Walsh and Katherine Donnelly

The Government is facing demands to top up wage hikes in the €1.1bn public-sector pay deal by at least €700m.

This is in addition to €250m it has already spent since the wage agreement came into force last year.

Public-service union claims for wage hikes are mounting as the Government prepares for next week's local and European elections and a general election looms.

The public-sector pay bill - which makes up a third of all spending - will reach a peak of €18.7bn this year.

This is €1bn higher than it was last year.

The Government was given a new warning yesterday of a "royal" battle on the pay front that could lead to strikes as early as next month.

Thousands of Siptu hospital support staff announced an overwhelming ballot in favour of industrial action in a row over a pay evaluation exercise.

They will mount pickets unless Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe's department loosens the purse strings to put those found to be underpaid on higher wages.

At a "pay justice" conference in Croke Park, they accused the department of "stonewalling" wage upgrades that were due following a pay evaluation in 2015.

The estimated cost of rolling out the findings, as well as a separate review for chefs, is estimated at €17.9m.

And there are already strong indications the Government will act on other claims:

- The biggest demand is for unspecified pay rises for the entire 330,500-strong State workforce.

This is partly a knock-on from a deal worth more €50m given to nurses to halt strikes earlier this year as well as increases in the cost of living;

- Union negotiators will demand that extra working hours imposed during the crash are abolished, at a cost of €600m, or else a 6pc pay rise. And they want at least some of it in the next budget;

- A "process" has been promised to deal with a €40m pay equality claim for consultants;

- Education Minister Joe McHugh has also committed to give "full consideration" to fully end two-tier pay for teachers - at an unknown cost. He has also signalled that a €15m claim for lost pay due to sanctions imposed following industrial action will be examined;

- The Public Service Pay Commission is set to recommend the Government give the defence forces allowance increases. The Government is unlikely to reject the recommendations.

The Government has already spent €250m on wage deals to end two-tier pay and halt a nurses' strike since the Public Service Stability Agreement came into force.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael came under fire from the podium yesterday at the Siptu conference. Labour senator Ged Nash said hospital workers had no option but to take matters into their own hands.

Siptu divisional organiser Paul Bell, who is running for Labour in the local elections, said the €2.9m cost of a deal to give chefs what they were due was a "fair distance from broadband". "And this Government thinks that it's going to face us down," he said.

"I'll tell you now, they're in for a royal battle."

Irish Independent

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