Anne-Marie Walsh: Putting a price on pension value won't help gardaí in the sympathy stakes
John Horgan's decision to put a price on the value of Garda pensions was a brave move and will change the tone of Government talks on whether it should give more pay rises to public servants.
Those used to the industrial relations scene are familiar with unions and employers couching their benefits in terms that are not immediately accessible to most people. The reason, more often than not, is they don't want them to know.
Up to now, the value of pensions when it came up during previous exercises to benchmark public sector pay against the private sector has usually been expressed as a percentage of pay. Unions are arguing that giving them a value of 12pc of wages is too high and urged the pay body that will advise the Government on its strategy to consider a lower estimate.
For a long time, private sector workers have felt aggrieved that they are funding better benefits for those employed by the State.
The value of public sector pensions is a touchy point, but it has become even more touchy. Large swathes of the private sector have no pension, the most recent recruits are on less lucrative defined contribution schemes and many of those on the same supposedly "guaranteed" defined benefit schemes as State workers have been left with just a fraction of what they expected in their golden years due to huge deficits that they have been left to shoulder.
There is no doubt if the public had known that Garda pensions were worth between €30,000 and €40,000, bringing their average remuneration to €100,000 a year, there may have been less public sympathy for their threatened strikes last month. Prior to the strike dates, garda associations emphasised the low starting rates of new recruits and impact of pay reductions suffered in a pay cut and pension levy on basic pay during the recession.
Since then, Central Statistics Office data showing those who led the clamour for pay rises -namely gardaí and education workers - are actually among the highest earners in the public sector.
Mr Horgan's report shows the average garda earned €63,450 last year and this will rise by €4,000 next year due to a €50m deal given to get them to call off the strikes. Garda associations argue that the fact there are not enough gardaí to man the force has forced them to work extra overtime, and this has skewed the figures.
Paschal Donohoe is expected to use Mr Horgan's assessment to strengthen his hand at talks under way with unions. However, his recent decision to hold talks on "anomalies" thrown up for State workers due to the €50m garda package has been seen as a major concession to unions. It is likely mean some form of pay increase.
The Public Service Pay Commission is supposed to assess the value of pensions and job security when advising the Government whether to give pay rises at talks on a successor to the Lansdowne Road Agreement. Unless a fair assessment is used, Mr Donohoe may face a backlash.