Sunday 18 March 2018

'Workers should not expect big restoration in their pay until 2018,' says Mulvey

The retiring mediator reflects on the Luas strike, the Garth Brooks row, public sector pay - and that spat with Jack O'Connor. Anne-Marie Walsh reports

Kieran Mulvey, Director General of the Workplace Relations Commission, in his office on Haddington Road, Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin
Kieran Mulvey, Director General of the Workplace Relations Commission, in his office on Haddington Road, Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin

Anne-Marie Walsh

Workers in the public sector have been warned to temper their expectations of a pay rise in the coming year.

The retiring chief state mediator has revealed he does not see much "room for manoeuvre" in terms of a major pay boost, on top of what is already promised.

Former Director General of the Workplace Relations Commission Kieran Mulvey said 2018 would likely be the earliest timeframe for refunding €2bn pay cuts made during the recession.

Mr Mulvey also described the Luas as "a bit of a four-letter word I don't want to hear at least not for another six months of my retirement", after his efforts during the long-running dispute.

He said "we were lucky that it did not end in closure", and tram operator Transdev pulling out.

Speaking on the day of his retirement following 25 years in conciliation, Mr Mulvey was sceptical that further large sums will be refunded in addition to what has been agreed under the Lansdowne Road deal during 2017.

A total of €1.4bn cuts have not been refunded yet, of which €632m is due to those earning over €65,000 a year.

"I don't see where the room for manoeuvre is at the moment," said Mr Mulvey.

"That's not to say it should be excluded. If it's going to be thought about in any shape or form, I see it more towards the early part of 2018.

"There might be room for manoeuvre around an element of a pay round, provided it doesn't distort relativities, or secondly that it doesn't undermine the agreement, or thirdly that we don't get into a situation where certain groups seem to be more favoured than others. It is a delicate balancing act, not just for the Government. It's a very delicate balancing act for the unions themselves to act in concert on this. And they're under pressure themselves."

He said he feels to a large degree that the "level of pay is set" and it will depend on the budgetary resources available. "Now we're on the right trajectory, but there are priorities, in provision of social services, health services, housing services."

And he said he does not believe there will be widespread industrial action over the acceleration of refunds - but there might be occasional "flashpoints".

"I think unions need to vent that occasionally," he said. "We had a national one-day strike in 2010, and a series of strikes were being announced in different sectors," he said. "That's when I intervened, but I don't think we're going back to that. I think what we're seeing at the moment is frustration at the slow pace of response, sometimes to issues that have been flagged in particular services for a time."

Speaking about the Luas dispute, Mr Mulvey said there was no legislation that would work to protect essential services like the Luas from industrial action. And he described a row between himself and Siptu General President Jack O'Connor, as "great radio".

Mr O'Connor called for his resignation after accusing him of bias. But Mr Mulvey said: "Jack O'Connor and I met the following week and had a great discussion about life, our own careers, and our own backgrounds. We've known each other for 30 years. That was great radio, but let it be archived."

And he was scathing about Dublin City Council during his attempt to mediate in the Garth Brooks saga, which saw the singer cancel planned dates at Croke Park.

"I felt the city authorities at the time should have informed Croke Park and the promoter at a far earlier stage that they were not approving five concerts, and only three.

"The extraordinary situation, during it, is they ended up approving five concerts. It is no way to conduct public business."

He also said asylum seekers should be allowed to work and are an "untapped resource". "Really, at this stage, we should crack that nut," he said.

Irish Independent

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