Friday 19 July 2019

Anne-Marie Walsh: 'Government risks pay claim free-for-all if it gives in to strikes'

  

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Anne-Marie Walsh

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe are not just facing a showdown with nurses -they've also got the public sector union leadership breathing down their necks.

The union chiefs have not made any secret of the fact that their members will be queuing up with their hands out if the nurses get anything they don't.

Fórsa has publicly warned the Government that it will submit knock-on claims if the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation wins any concessions.

A bulletin to members last week said it was its "strong view" that all public servants must be treated equally. Siptu officials have spoken about why its 4,000 nurses are not backing these strikes.

So who exactly will be dusting off their begging bowls if the Government decides to loosen the purse strings?

The answer is probably the entire remainder of the public service.

Senior union sources said there could be a free-for-all, but the leadership is most likely to take a collective approach on behalf of the remaining 290,000-plus State employees.

"The view is, we all signed up to an agreement and we all knew what it meant," they said.

The Public Service Pay Commission has a role in areas such as recruitment and retention, where there is potential to give more (on top of pay rises due), but there was no question it would be in the lifetime of this agreement.

If anyone is in any doubt about the likelihood of knock-on claims, they should think back to the Government's unprecedented clash with the Garda two years ago.

When faced with a breakdown of law and order, the desperate Government put a €50m pay package on the table. Within 24 hours, the other public service unions were demanding the same for all other State employees and a pay rise was brought forward.

If the Government accepts the nursing unions' argument that a 12pc pay hike is justified due to a recruitment and retention crisis, it will strengthen claims already drawn up on these grounds.

Some say they have a better case. They include health professionals working in physiotherapy, occupational therapy and social care. Fórsa argues that the retention problem is more acute in these areas than in any health profession, except doctors.

It also argues that uncompetitive entry pay in the civil service has left State bodies struggling to recruit a long list of staff. They include cleaners, solicitors, meteorologists, radio officers, agricultural officers, valuers, Oireachtas researchers, translation staff, special education needs organisers and civilian staff in Garda stations.

The nurses' deal would cost €300m, but that is a drop in the ocean compared to the potential impact that knock-on claims would have.

A Department of Public Expenditure and Reform spokesperson said it had not costed the potential impact of a 12pc pay rise across the public service. This year, the pay bill will rise from €17.8bn to €18.7bn - its highest level ever. A crude calculation shows a 12pc pay rise could push it close to a whopping €21bn.

Irish Independent

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