Wednesday 18 September 2019

Katherine Donnelly: 'Government learns there is no such thing as partial equality'

  

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Once the nurses stretched the parameters of the current public service pay deal, the PSSA, it was inevitable that more elasticity would have to be found.

The country could not take any more than three days of nurses' strikes and the dispute ended with a deal that will cost the Government about €10-15m this year and up to €35m in 2020. Nonetheless, that doesn't include savings that will be generated to fund it.

The ink was barely dry on the PSSA but nurses had a grievance. When they took to the picket lines, their popularity with the public, coupled with the risk to the health service and its patients, rang loud and clear in Government ears.

Teachers were already primed for action.

Like the nurses, two of the teacher unions, the INTO and ASTI, had also rejected the PSSA, while the third, the TUI, declared support for the ongoing campaign for an end to pay inequality in the profession.

There were live threats of ballots on industrial action and teacher union leaders demanded a positive signal from Government ahead of this week's conferences. That is what they got yesterday.

Members of all public service unions were affected by pay cuts in 2011, but teachers were the most vocal because proportionately more of their members were affected by lower salary scales for new entrants than other groups. Recruitment of teachers, particularly at primary level, continued throughout the recession to cater for the growth in pupil numbers.

Two-tier salary scales have been a running sore since the pay of new entrants was cut and has dominated every teacher union conference since.

Much progress has been made in closing the gap, but the unions have kept their campaign going on the grounds that there is no such thing as partial equality. Either everybody has the same potential career earnings or they do not.

We have yet to see how the agreement wrought from Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe's Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will translate, but, at her last conference as an INTO official, outgoing general secretary Sheila Nunan declared "this will get us over the finishing line".

Her combined leadership of the INTO as well as prominent roles on the ICTU Public Services Committee, over the period, made her very much the face of this campaign.

So, it seems, that extra flexibility was found after all, and teachers will not be alone in seeking to bring closure to what they see as "unfinished business" around pay inequality.

However, crucially, and in contrast with the nurses' deal where more money has to be found this year, the wording agreed with the ICTU Public Services Committee does not tie the Government to delivering concessions within the lifetime of the PSSA.

The floodgates are holding, which means the timeline for payment will stretch into the tenure of the next government.

Irish Independent

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