Saturday 17 March 2018

Varadkar vows to block public sector from 'pocketing' all benefits of recovery

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has warned he will resist any attempt to cut social welfare spending in order to facilitate fresh pay demands by public sector workers.

In a move that will stoke tensions between the Government and trade union leaders, Mr Varadkar said strike action cannot be used by workers as a means of taking "all the benefits of the recovery for themselves".

Government ministers are now braced for the prospect of spending cuts in their departments as a result of a flurry of anticipated pay demands prompted by last week's €50m Labour Court ruling on Garda pay.

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe is understood to be deeply concerned by the potential knock-on effects of the ruling.

Union leaders last night ramped up the pressure, warning of a "free-for-all" unless talks on a new pay deal begin immediately after Christmas.

Mr Donohoe will this week invite unions to attend crunch talks in a bid to prevent a period of industrial chaos.

But last night, his Cabinet colleague Mr Varadkar warned his Government colleagues to remain tough. He told the Irish Independent he will not allow his own department to be targeted in order to facilitate additional pay increases above Lansdowne Road.

"Some 800,000 people including carers, people with disabilities, the sick and lone parents, are getting their first increase since 2009 from March 10 but they will still be €10.50 a week worse off than they were before the crisis started," Mr Varadkar said.

"Carers, lone parents and people with disabilities can't go on strike.

"It's the Government's job to ensure that those who can don't take all the benefits of recovery for themselves."

Health Minister Simon Harris said the money required to pay for the Garda deal will be found within existing resources.

It's expected the issue will be the subject of testy exchanges at tomorrow's Cabinet meeting with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald set to argue that it should not be entirely footed by her department.

Speaking on RTÉ's 'The Week in Politics', Mr Harris said the Lansdowne Road Agreement must remain in place.

"There is no magic money tree at the end of the garden that Government can just go and pluck money from branches here," Mr Harris said.

But union leaders yesterday continued to ramp up tensions with the Government.

Secretary of the Public Service Committee of the Congress of Trade Unions, Tom Geraghty, said the Garda deal was a "game changer".

He warned that the Government must now speed up the rate of pay restoration, adding that the Lansdowne Road Agreement can no longer run its full term.

The deal, in theory, is due to expire in September 2018.

But Mr Geraghty indicated the timeframe for the Public Sector Pay Commission, which is due to begin its first phase of work in the spring, is no longer acceptable.

"The Government has breached the terms of the Lansdowne Road Agreement by shovelling a significant sum of money at a group of people that chose to stay outside of the Lansdowne Road Agreement," Mr Geraghty told RTÉ's 'This Week' programme.

Mr Geraghty said unless the Government properly engages with the union movement about pay negotiations within months, individual unions will "go it alone", prompting a "free-for-all."

Irish Independent

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