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Monday 11 December 2017

Tensions mount over Varadkar's plan to stop annual public sector pay rises

Fionnan Sheahan, Sarah Collins and Barry Duggan

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny today refused to speculate on any aspects of the Budget when asked about possible changes to the Croke Park Agreement as he arrived at Government buildings.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore gave Transport Minister Leo Varadkar a severe dressing- down last night as tensions mounted within the coalition parties over public sector pay.

The underlying differences between Fine Gael and the Labour Party on the public sector were highlighted as Mr Gilmore delivered his second rebuke to Mr Varadkar in just a fortnight.

Speaking after Mr Varadkar suggested public sector pay increments could be put on hold for a year, Mr Gilmore said: "Frankly, I would prefer if individual ministers didn't get up every Monday morning and express a point of view on -- a personal point of view on -- the Croke Park agreement or budget formation or whatever, and that where issues like this have to be addressed, that they're addressed collectively by government."

But Mr Varadkar defiantly continues to push the boundaries of public sector reforms.

After calling for compulsory redundancies in any future pay deal two weeks ago, Mr Varadkar opened the door to breaking the Croke Park agreement by suggesting public sector pay rises should be deferred for a year to save up to €200m.

Public sector unions argue the bulk of the annual increment payments -- where a worker's salary takes a step up a ladder -- benefit lower-paid staff.


Revelations of the payments of increments last year to more than 3,000 senior public servants, already on salaries of more than €70,000, has proved highly controversial for the Government.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is currently compiling figures on the level of increment payments to different levels of the public sector, and will be available next week.

Mr Varadkar made his comments after Health Minister Dr James Reilly flagged cutting overtime and premium payments in the health service in a bid to reduce overspending in the area, which had already hit €200m at the end of April.

Although Mr Varadkar admits increments are probably covered by the existing Croke Park deal, he said the payments were "kind of a grey area" because the deal did not allow for either pay cuts or pay increases.

"It's very hard to justify giving anyone any kind of pay increase in the year ahead while we are cutting services, and I think that is one that is particularly difficult," he said.

But Mr Gilmore said the Government had an agreement with the trade unions and "we're going to honour it".

"The agreement does not provide for the withdrawal of increments," he said in Luxembourg.

Mr Varadkar's colleagues in Fine Gael were less harsh on his comments.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny didn't quite answer the question when he was asked if the Government would be delaying paying increments to public servants -- but he didn't quite back Mr Varadkar either. "I'm not going to speculate on the contents of the Budget, which will be held in December," he said.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said Mr Varadkar's comments on increments were "personal".

Irish Independent

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