Croke Park failure would see legislation on pay cuts
ANALYSIS:The larger-than-anticipated turnout of frontline public service staff at the rally against further cuts in earnings on Monday night and the palpable anger displayed will undoubtedly have caused the Government discomfort.
The current talks on an extension to the Croke Park agreement – in which the Government is seeking to cut its public service pay and pensions bill by €1 billion over three years (€300 million this year) – are at a crucial stage.
Given it is the objective of the Government that many public servants would receive less in earnings, an agreement with the public service committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions was never going to be easy.
The determination of groups such as gardaí, nurses, prison officers, paramedics and firefighters to resist any cuts to their premium rate earnings is likely to make concluding any deal all the harder.
Parity of pain
A key element in the architecture of any extension to the Croke Park agreement was always going to be the “parity of pain” principle. In achieving the proposed €1 billion in savings, all groups would have to be seen to be taking a hit.
However, many of the groups have little in common with each other, other than having the State as their employer. How could a deal be put together that would equally affect teachers, nurses, gardaí, civil servants and Defence Forces personnel, who have widely different attendance patterns and work practices?
Broadly speaking, the Government’s proposals revolved around all public service staff facing some combination of additional working hours, reduction/abolition of some premium payments, changes to flexitime working arrangements and a straightforward pay cut (or a step back on the incremental pay scale) for higher earners.
However, whether such measures are fair or otherwise when applied to individual groups goes to the heart of the row.
Frontline staff such as gardaí or nurses receive a significant amount of their overall earnings – unions consider the figure to be 20 per cent – from premium payments designed to compensate them for having to work at night or weekends.
With the Government seeking to reduce the existing double-time payment for Sunday work to time-and-a-half and to abolish the premium rates for working on Saturday and evenings, the frontline groups maintain they are being targeted.
Their fear is that they will be hit hard in the pocket while many other staff, particularly those working regular hours, would not face a direct financial loss but rather would have to change their work practices by working additional hours or seeing the end of their flexitime arrangements.
The Government has argued frontline personnel are not being targeted but that the overall €750 million bill for overtime and premium payments is too large.
The country’s largest public service union, Impact, entered the argument yesterday when it told members that claims by frontline public servants they are being singled out are “wrong”.
Impact said sums larger or equivalent to the €170 million being sought in the area of premium payments were being targeted in other parts of the public service.