Croke Park successor may target pay and conditions
SENIOR GOVERNMENT figures have indicated they may seek to water down the protections on pay and conditions set out in the Croke Park agreement in discussions on any future deal.
Minister of State for Public Sector Reform Brian Hayes last night became the latest Fine Gael Minister to support the concept of a second Croke Park deal. He said Croke Park II would have to take account of the State’s requirements when it came to discussions on pay and increments.
“I think it would be in the interests of the country if we had a second Croke Park agreement.
“As to what would be in that agreement, that’s up for debate. But people shouldn’t ignore this fact: that the Croke Park agreement has given us the flexibility and industrial peace to do a lot of radical restructuring in the public sector.
“Too often, the benefits of that have been completely underestimated in terms of public sector reform.”
However, he added: “Obviously a second Croke Park agreement would have to be sketched out in terms of the country’s requirements on pay, increments and everything else.”
Mr Hayes said he did not think another country had so successfully managed the public sector during the economic crisis.
Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar said yesterday the Government was bound to implement the existing agreement, which it had inherited from its predecessor.
He said while he had an open mind about an extension or successor to the agreement, which expires in 2014, any new accord could not be “just the same old Croke Park deal”.
“We need to be able to talk about other things. If it is worth extending or renewing, we need to be able to talk about other issues,” he said.
Under the Croke Park agreement, there will be no further pay cuts or compulsory redundancies before 2014 for public service staff in return for reform.
However the issue of pay has come into sharp focus, as the Government prepares to deliver another tough budget in December.
Minister for Trade Joe Costello of Labour strongly defended the Croke Park agreement and described it as “the most successful social contract in the history of the State considering the enormous austerity measures contained therein”.
Mr Costello said calls for the deal to be scrapped or restructured were “short-sighted and irresponsible” in the context of the programme for government and more particularly in the context of exiting the troika programme and regaining our economic sovereignty.
Earlier this month, Minister for Health James Reilly effectively called for the Croke Park deal to be renegotiated. He said pay was “the elephant in the room”.
Mr Varadkar said the current Croke Park deal would stand until 2014. He said if there were going to be negotiations with the trade unions on an extension to the agreement, they would probably have to get under way within the next six to eight months, if not sooner.
The Irish Times reported last week that Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn had said he would like to see negotiations begin for a successor to the Croke Park deal.
“Given the state of where we are, everything should be on the table but I can’t prejudge what the outcome of that might be,” Mr Quinn said.
Mr Varadkar has previously called for a suspension of annual incremental increases for public service staff, which unions maintain are covered by the protections of Croke Park. He has also raised the prospect of provisions for compulsory redundancies in the public service.
The Croke Park agreement is likely to be at the centre of further controversy in the days ahead when Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin brings proposals to Cabinet for reforming the 800 separate allowances paid to public service staff at a cost of about €1.5 billion annually.
It is widely expected that any changes will only apply to new entrants. Unions have claimed that allowances for existing staff are also covered by the guarantees set out in the Croke Park deal.