Wednesday 13 December 2017

Unions scramble for pay deals with €2bn on State table

Paschal Donohoe TD Picture: Tom Burke
Paschal Donohoe TD Picture: Tom Burke

Anne-Marie Walsh

Unions are clamouring for extras worth more than €2bn as a pay rush takes hold ahead of government talks on a new public sector wage deal this summer.

Workers are vying to get in first for wage hikes and big changes to their terms and conditions as a new body advising the Government on its pay policy has begun meeting staff representative groups.

But Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform Dara Calleary warned there is no scope for further pay rises before the Lansdowne Road Agreement runs out in September next year.

He said unions' demands for the full restoration of cuts imposed under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest legislation in the form of a pension levy and wage reduction is a "very, very, big ask".

Unions have called for the €1.4bn cuts under the legislation to be given back as quickly as possible. They also want a €600 pay rise for each of the 250,000 public servants who signed up to the Lansdowne Road Agreement but did not benefit from a €50m pay package given to gardaí to avoid strikes.

In addition, hospital consultants are seeking a €350m increase that was due eight years ago on top of restoration of the pay cuts.

And unions have tabled a range of demands beyond the reinstatement of the emergency cuts that would put an extra strain worth hundreds of millions of euro on the public purse. It includes the abolition of lower starting salaries for new recruits, the roll back of an average two and a half unpaid hours worked by public servants each week, and the restoration of overtime rates, premium payments and allowances.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe, has agreed to hold talks on a successor deal to the Lansdowne Road Agreement although he is already struggling to balance the books after agreeing to the garda package and a knock on deal worth €120m for most of the state workforce.

Read More: Taxpayers should be rightly nervous at onerous demands

The uncertainties created by Brexit, US President Donald Trump's corporate tax policies, and any further economic shocks on top of the large-scale job loss announcement at HP last week will lead to more intense scrutiny of how next year's budget is spent.

Mr Calleary said the unwinding of Fempi and other pay deals had to be sustainable or the Government would be "back to pay cuts and levies". "I don't see scope for any pay rises before September 2018," he said. "I believe the pressures of Brexit will start hitting the state finances in the next quarter."

He said a major opportunity was lost last summer when Mr Donohoe failed to set up the pay commission as its work on setting out a roadmap for unwinding Fempi and examining pay and staff shortages could have been far more advanced.

He said its first report is unlikely to be ready until April, and talks will begin almost immediately.

Impact spokesman Bernard Harbor said the union knew the unwinding of Fempi was "going to take time" and unions accepted they would not achieve all their objectives in a single negotiation. "The union position has always been that any agreement reached has to be sustainable and affordable, and we've been responsible on that," he said.

Cormac Lucey, chairman of the Hibernia Forum, an economic liberalism group, accused unions of using their "monopoly position" to "intimidate" pay rises they wouldn't be able to get in the private sector.

He said the state was taking in 40pc more tax and USC than it did in 2007. "So before we see a restoration of public sector pay, we should see a restoration of tax levels," he said. "Instead of asking for a straight up pay rise, they are using a panoply of allowances here and expense claims there to disguise what's really going on."

Irish Independent

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