Four unions walk out of public service pay talks

Sun, Feb 24, 2013, 00:00

Four unions have tonight walked out on extension talks to the Croke Park agreement. 

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) followed by the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU) and Unite trade union left the talks tonight. 

In a statement, the INMO said the decision was taken when it "became apparent that there was no possibility of the ongoing process protecting the existing income of its members".

The union said it would "not be bound by the outcome of any agreement should it emerge".

Steve Tweed of the IMO said the proposals were a "step too far on a number of counts" including a reduction in pay for a large number of its members.

Tom Fitzgerald of Unite said "there is no basis for negotiation in there....there is a billion euro that management want to cut. They want to have the trade union to act as an extension of management functions. We're not prepared to engage in those discussions."

Eoin Ronayne of the CPSU said: "There is not enough that we can do at this stage to make an agreement that our members can cope with. It's far too deep. It cuts right to the core of the cost of living for our members"

The country's largest public service trade union Impact is tonight continuing to take part in talks .It has this evening said it will not accept Government proposals for a total freeze in all increments as part of talks on an extension to the Croke Park agreement.

It also said it was opposed to proposals to cut premium payments to ‘time and a half’ payments for Sunday working.

Trade union Siptu earlier warned of “protracted strikes” in the public service if a reasonable outcome does not emerge from talks to extend the Croke Park agreement.

In a statement this morning Siptu president Jack O’Connor said in the absence of a reasonable outcome “we will actually go to war”.

“We are prepared for it. It will involve protracted strikes and all that goes with them. While we may not win, the Government will not win either.”

Mr O’Connor said it was wise for all sides in the current talks to explore the possibility of a negotiated settlement.

Talks between public sector management and unions on an extension to the Croke Park resumed at 10am and are expected to continue until late tonight in a bid to secure an agreement.

The discussions are focusing on proposals from employers for staff to work additional hours per week and also plans to cut premium payments for gardaí, nurses and other frontline staff.

While the Government has set a deadline of Thursday for the talks to conclude both sides have agreed that the discussions will continue today and into the night until agreement is reached or they breakdown.

Under proposals put forward last night by the Labour Relations Commission as part of talks on an extension to the Croke Park there would be minimum of 37 hours which staff would have to work with a maximum of 39 hours.

Staff currently working 35 hours per week or less would move to a 37 hour week net of all breaks. Those currently working more than 35 hours would move to 39 hours, net of breaks.

There would be no change in the working week for staff currently working 39 hours. However if employees in this category worked overtime, one hour of this would be provided free of charge.

The Labour Relations Commission has suggested that public service management should put forward proposals to allow staff who wanted to remain on their existing hours to do so for a period. However they would face a reduction in pay.

The commission proposal also stated that in the case of teachers the proposed elimination of supervision and substitution payments would “allow for additional arrangements for various absences and will provide a further two hours and fifteen minutes in the context of these changes”.

Mr O’Connor said Siptu officials at the talks were working to achieve a better outcome than a legislated pay cut “or what we could reasonably expect from a protracted industrial battle”.

He said the unions were negotiating with a Government holding an overwhelming parliamentary majority and facing an economic crisis that threatens the “very solvency of the State”.

“There is actually a way in which the burden on those who work in the public services and the people who depend on their work could be alleviated. This would involve a substantially greater contribution from the rich in the form of taxation.

“Unfortunately, sixty per cent of those who voted in the last election supported the parties that are opposed to a wealth tax or a higher tax rate on high earners. Indeed, based on the latest opinion polls these same parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, would still command an absolute majority of the votes.”

One of the main issues to be considered today will be proposals by the Government to cut pay for higher earners. The threshold for the pay cut is expected to be in the region of €60,000 - €70,000.

The document presented this evening is the first set of proposals drawn up by the Labour Relations Commission in the current talks process.

The Government has repeated its call for a freeze in incremental pay increases for staff across the public service. Union sources said management had not changed its position on increments. Unions are opposed to the move.

Meanwhile, revelations that the Department of Health is to seek a pay review for the head of the HSE while the Government is seeking pay cuts elsewhere is a slight on public service workers, the Irish Medical Organisation has said.

Its director of industrial relations Steve Tweed said the reports today of the forthcoming pay review it was not helpful as talks continued on Government plans to cut its pay bill by €300 million this year.

Separately, the union representing university lecturers is to consider whether it will continue to participate in the talks on a new Croke Park agreement.

Organisations representing nurses, gardaí, prison officers, paramedics and fire service staff have strongly opposed the proposed cuts and argue that the moves would disproportionately affect them.

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