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Unified deal unlikely as individual packages sought

Agreement with the public sector unions that remains even broadly within government parameters to cut €1bn off the public sector payroll by 2015 would represent a significant achie-vement for the Government as it prepares to exit the bailout deal by the end of the year.

It is up to Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin to consider whether Mr Mulvey's report on progress to date is sufficient to allow further talks or to proceed with legislation to impose pay cuts that may act to concentrate the minds of those unions that are holding out.

Either way, Mr Howlin will be relieved if he can secure a deal and avoid what could be a summer of industrial unrest. A bonus to a deal would be a follow-on deal at Bus Eireann where representatives of the state bus company and the unions arrived at a busy LRC yesterday evening.

Another harsh budget is due in October. Having to scrape around for cuts elsewhere to fill those budget gaps while battling industrial bushfires across the public service would be an almost impossible task, particularly if it is to be done under the stern gaze of the troika. The unions too would welcome agreement as leaders are unsure whether the members are ready to endure what Jack O'Connor of Siptu said would be a "sustained campaign" of industrial action if pay cuts are imposed.

Negotiations at the LRC have now reverted to individual union level. The nurses and the doctors have presented a united front as have the teachers' unions.

This suggests that if a deal emerges, it may be at sectoral level and unions may ballot in their own sector rather than across the entire public service.

The Government too would prefer sectoral negotiations in that they would be able to play one sector and union off against another.

But like the unions, the Government too would lose the ability to get a unified deal over the line and find themselves fighting separate bushfires all over the public sector. Maybe they should be careful what they wish for.

Martin Frawley is a journalist who specialises in industrial relations.

Irish Independent