Government wants response in fortnight to new initiative on public service pay

Howlin says Government will work with unions prepared to make compromises

Taoiseach Enda Kenny: Expects a response within a fortnight. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Taoiseach Enda Kenny: Expects a response within a fortnight. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Wed, Apr 24, 2013, 10:56

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said he expects a response within a fortnight to an initiative by the Government to engage with trade unions on plans to cut the public service pay and pensions bill.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said last night that the Government wanted to work with trade unions that wanted to work with it.

However, he warned that time for further talks was running out.

Following the rejection last week of the Croke Park II proposals, the Cabinet yesterday asked the chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission Kieran Mulvey “to make contact with the parties in the coming days to establish whether or not there is a basis for a negotiated agreement”.

The Government said it had reaffirmed its requirement to generate savings of €300 million on the pay and pension bill this year and €1 billion by 2015.

In the Dáil last night, Mr Howlin again defended the measures in the proposed Croke Park II deal which were rejected by trade union members last week.

He said the public finances remained in a perilous position.

He suggested that if the Government was a private sector employer “there would be a lot of jobs at stake”.

Mr Howlin said that Mr Mulvey would make contact with the parties and see whether there was a basis for a further engagement that might lead to an agreement.

“He will do that exploration over the coming days with both sides, and report in time to allow for a further discussion and decision by Government in a fortnight’s time. The Government is certainly willing to talk to staff representatives who are prepared to reach a realistic compromise with the Government on how to make these savings. The reality of the budgetary timetable is such that time for any discussions is running out.”

Earlier yesterday the Opposition walked out of an Oireachtas subcommittee hearing on revised estimates for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on Public Expenditure and Reform Sean Fleming said the estimates contained provision for savings set out in the Croke Park II deal which had been rejected by unions. He said the estimates were therefore flawed and should be withdrawn.

Mr Howlin said agencies that operated under his department needed to be funded.

He said the Civil Service shared service operation needed to secure funding this week. He suggested if there were any changes in relation to provisions for wages in the future he would come back to the committee again and have these dealt with separately.

The Cabinet decision to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to generate €300 million in savings on the public service pay bill this year and €1 billion by 2015 followed proposals put forward by the president of Siptu Jack O’Connor for an alternative formula for realising the savings.

He suggested use of some of the proceeds from the recent promissory note deal, the introduction of an off-balance sheet stimulus programme and increased taxation of the wealthy could lessen the need for cuts.