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Unions insist public sector's 2pc pay rise must be honoured

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Patricia King said she expects the pay deal to be honoured. Photo: Damien Eagers

Patricia King said she expects the pay deal to be honoured. Photo: Damien Eagers

Patricia King said she expects the pay deal to be honoured. Photo: Damien Eagers

Union leaders have said a 2pc pay rise for the public sector must go ahead as planned in October, despite the dire state of the country's finances following the coronavirus lockdown.

Patricia King, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu), also said at the weekend that the minimum wage should be increased from €10.10 to €12.30.

Under the final stage of the pay deal, 330,000 public sector workers, including nurses, gardaí and teachers, along with council staff, are due to get the 2pc hike in pay.

It is estimated this pay rise will cost €88m in the last three months of 2020 and €264m in 2021.

However, there is a clause in the deal stating the agreement could be revised if there were to be "adverse" adjustments to "economic circumstances".

Advocating that the pay rise goes ahead as planned, Ms King told the 'Business Post': "Who is keeping the country moving and rolling? Who has kept people safe and who is going every day to risk their lives to make sure people are safe?"

She said she expected the pay deal to be "honoured", despite a projected €30bn hole in the country's finances, and Ictu's public services committee is in contact with the Government.

Currently 589,000 workers are receiving Covid-19 unemployment payments while another 456,000 are receiving wages part-subsidised by the State. However, business leaders accused the trade unions of being "insensitive" in seeking pay rises "while the rest of the economy is on social welfare".

"The timing is inappropriate. It's insensitive and doesn't recognise the awful pain of the thousands of private sector workers, who have lost their jobs during this crisis," said Neil McDonnell, CEO of small and medium business group Isme.

"We have a similar wave of unemployment to the recession, at roughly 28pc. And while we're hoping this will decrease rapidly, as the economy opens, we have the protected sector of our economy looking for pay rises, while the rest of the economy is on social welfare.

"I ask members of the trade union movement to be sensitive to the situation of those people working in the non-protected, exposed sectors of the economy.

"They need to bear those people in mind as, ultimately, it's those people, as taxpayers, who are paying.

"Ms King's members are looking to be paid from the coffers of those who have suffered a massive wave of forced unemployment and we'd ask them to be sensitive to the feelings and the position of those people now."

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had promised Labour leader Alan Kelly they would green light the pay deal at a time when it seemed the smaller party might join government.

The Small Firms Association told the Low Pay Commission the minimum wage should be maintained for three years, due to the difficulty retail and hospitality businesses are in during the pandemic.

However, Ms King, also a representative on the Low Pay Commission, said: "There's no way the outcome of a pandemic should fall on the lowest paid workers. Now, more than ever, they need a decent wage."

Dublin Chamber CEO Mary Rose Burke told the Irish Independent: "Given the challenges we face in rebooting the economy, this is not the time for discussions about public pay and minimum wage increases to be taking place.

"The full focus at the moment should be on getting the country and the economy back on its feet, stabilising business and getting people back into employment."

David Fitzsimons, group CEO of Retail Excellence Ireland, said: "This is not the right time. On behalf of the private sector, I want to say we are really struggling in retail."

Irish Independent