Croke Park extension demands 'draconian', say unions
Trade unions have described proposals for public service reform tabled yesterday by the Government as “draconian” and have warned the new talks process could break down at a very early stage.
At the opening session of talks on an extension to the Croke Park agreement, public service management proposed radical measures.
These involve pay cuts for some grades, increased working hours, the elimination of increments, a reduction in premium and overtime rates, and reforms to supervision and substitution payments for teachers. They also involve greater flexibility in redeploying staff.
Unions said the issue of compulsory redundancies – one of the core guarantees in the Croke Park agreement – was not specifically mentioned but that management signalled it wanted provision to offer exit packages to staff who did not opt for redeployment offers.
Separately, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin is expected to seek Cabinet approval for targeted voluntary redundancy schemes under which 1,500 health staff, more than 500 in agriculture and 350 in education would leave.
The scale of the management proposals – aimed at €1 billion in savings on the Government’s pay and pensions bill on top of those already secured – shocked many trade union leaders.
Union leaders set out their proposals for the talks yesterday and hope to negotiate significant changes. However, there were concerns among some leaders last night that the scale of change to the proposals that would be required to facilitate a deal would generate significant political difficulties for Mr Howlin.
The largest public service union, Impact, said last night it did not believe a deal would be possible if it embraced all the proposals. It would not put such proposals to ballot as they would not pass, it said.
General secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation Liam Doran told members in a bulletin last night that while the presentation did not include detail, it was clear what had been sought “could not form the basis of any agreement arising from these set of discussions”.
“In the context of the draconian agenda tabled by the management side, all members should note that it is quite possible these discussions could break down at a very early stage. It must be realised management clearly have a serious agenda for change which would render almost all agreements we have covering premium pay, working hours and other conditions of employment significantly reduced.”
Eoin Ronayne, general secretary of the Civil Public and Services Union, which represents lower-paid staff in the Civil Service, said it would be extraordinarily difficult to secure a deal.
The Government has signalled if the talks break down it will press ahead unilaterally to make the €1 billion savings sought. This could involve a pay cut of 7 per cent.
Unions said there would have to be a distinction between temporary measures for the current crisis and long-term changes.
They sought to raise issues of outsourcing, elimination of a workforce on separate pay levels, casualisation and allowances.