THE Government's rigid freeze on public sector recruitment will continue for a number of years, a union chief claimed last night.
Trade unions were also told that public sector numbers will be cut, but the Government did not spell out any specific figures during talks in Government Buildings yesterday.
The talks, taking place against the backdrop of An Bord Snip recommending a 20,000 cut in numbers, are expected to hear more specific details on the Government's plans today.
Two trade union leaders yesterday paved the way for a discussion on the workforce numbers after accepting a reduction may be needed as the Government bids to shave €1.3bn off the public sector pay bill. Last night, Blair Horan of the Civil Public and Services Union (CPSU) said "some reduction in numbers is inevitable."
He added: "The critical thing for me is not to affect members' pay for relatively low-paid members."
His comments came after IMPACT chief Peter McLoone earlier claimed the alternative to pay cuts is a "significant reduction" in public service numbers. Last night, on leaving talks in Government Buildings which lasted for just under three hours, Mr McLoone said the Government had confirmed the recruitment embargo would continue. Earlier, he said it was his expectation it would last for a "number of years".
"They have confirmed to us that they have no intention of dropping the moratorium but I can think we need to understand how long that is going to continue. The nature of public services is that you can't leave every vacancy that arises unfilled," he said.
The Government also indicated it is their intention to reduce numbers but they didn't go into the level of detail unions would have "wanted and expected", Mr McLoone added.
During yesterday's talks, unions asked how many vacant posts will be filled in the coming years, how many people will be lost through natural waste and how many will be lost through the closure of agencies and staff being deployed elsewhere.
"I think they [the Department of Finance] have indicative figures but they are very reluctant to go out into the public domain with figures until the plans are much clearer," Mr McLoone said.
The union chief added that while he remained opposed to compulsory redundancies, this did not mean unions could not address the future size of the public sector. He claimed there is still a possibility that €1.3bn in savings could be found without wage cuts.
"We are not conceding anything at this point in time. All we are doing is exploring what the alternative solution might be. In my opinion, a key ingredient will be numbers.
"We already are working with an embargo on recruitment since the middle of last year," he said. The union chief further claimed workers' unions remained in "confrontation mode" and on a "collision course" with the Government.
With Mr McLoone signalling that ICTU will address tax increases in separate negotiations, his fellow union leader Mr Horan said taxation must feature in the overall package.
"I don't agree with Peter in relation to taxation. In my view, and I've said this consistently, there is no solution to this crisis that doesn't address issues around taxation -- particularly for higher earners," he said.
"You simply cannot countenance a situation where you propose a pay cut for someone on €25,000 in the public service ... but someone earning €100,000 or more wouldn't pay more in tax."
Last night, Fianna Fail TDs were advised that the country needed to take the pain now, rather than spreading it out over a greater number of years.
It came as Colm McCarthy, the author of the Bord Snip report, and Finance Minister Brian Lenihan's special adviser Alan Ahearne, addressed the Fianna Fail parliamentary party ahead of the December budget.
Mr McCarthy also dismissed the Irish Congress of Trade Unions proposal to spread the budgetary recovery over eight years.
Sam Smyth, Page 20