Friday 13 December 2019

Anne-Marie Walsh: Leap of faith needed from the public workers

Anne-Marie Walsh

THE Croke Park deal was the sensible thing to do.

We are lurching through an economic crisis, interest rates are rising and months of industrial action have plunged the state administration into gridlock.

We cannot even guarantee that those who have lost their jobs can get a passport to emigrate.

Whether everyone involved in the campaign against the public sector pay cuts sees it that way is another thing.

The first-of-a-kind deal that had a painful birth in the early hours yesterday, guided by industrial relations surgeons Kieran Mulvey and Kevin Foley, has shown that most public sector union leaders want a new beginning.

But it will take a leap of faith from their members when they begin balloting on the draft agreement over the next few weeks. They went into this hoping their pay cuts will be reversed but the Government decision to slash €3bn from its payroll in pay cuts and a pension levy remains intact.

Concessions

The Government has also won major concessions on other issues including increments and achieved a wide range to reforms to complete its mission of transforming the public sector.

It even has a 'get out of jail clause' that allows it to back out of the deal in the event of an as yet unforeseen economic shock.

Public servants, on the other hand, have no guarantee that their pay cuts will be reversed. They could be in time, but they will ultimately deliver whatever is refunded themselves by generating the savings through reforms.

And there is no chance of it happening until next spring when the lower paid on less than €35,000 will get first call if there is any money in the pot. It is unclear how much they will get or when they will get it.

The real and immediate coup for the union side in this one is the promise that there will be no further pay cuts for four years.

Given the emergency decisions taken in Budgets over the last year or so, this news will be music to the ears of many public servants.

All eyes will now be on the Civil, Public and Services Union (CPSU) which has been at the heart of the passport row.

For it to sign up, members will have to drop their demand that the lost wages are paid back this year.

On the other hand, General Secretary Blair Horan is likely to be pleased that any money that may have fallen into the public sector piggybank by next spring is destined for his members who fall into the lower-paid category.

The question is whether they are prepared to wait until next spring when it comes to a ballot.

Of course, the CPSU may not be the only union to have difficulties with the final outcome and there was considerable difficulty getting SIPTU and the INMO over the line on some of the more sweeping changes in the health sector.

The vague nature of the pay 'review' process may be a hard sell for union officials on the ground, but their arguments may have to go beyond the immediate terms of the deal.

Over the coming weeks, the true meaning of the phrase public service will really be tested.

Irish Independent

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