Howlin warns dissenting unions as pay talks are extended

‘Government will take whatever action we need to make savings,’ Minister says

Kieran Mulvey, chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission: “Not all unions are over the line, so there’s a small opportunity to get them over the line.” Photograph: Eric Luke

Kieran Mulvey, chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission: “Not all unions are over the line, so there’s a small opportunity to get them over the line.” Photograph: Eric Luke

Tue, May 14, 2013, 01:00

The Government last night warned dissenting unions it would take “whatever action we need” to cut the public service pay bill as it gave the go-ahead for a further 48 hours of talks to reach a deal.

The Government considers it unlikely that it will be able to secure an overarching agreement with all public service unions on its plans to reduce the public service pay bill.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin is expected to meet Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore in advance of the meeting of the Cabinet today to consider agreements reached in principle with a number of groups and on what should be done in relation to groups with whom deals cannot be reached.

Speaking on his way into Government buildings to meet the chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) Kieran Mulvey last night, Mr Howlin said: “Our position from the outset is that we wanted a negotiated settlement. We wanted to achieve the savings that are implicit in the budget line. If we can do that through agreement, it would be really desirable for the country’s sake.”

Asked if the Government would be prepared to impose a pay cut via legislation on dissenting unions, he said: “I want to hear line by line, union by union, case by case, sector by sector. I have made it clear from the beginning the Government will take whatever action we need . . . to make those savings.”

One option under review is the introduction of legislation, which would take effect in July and would achieve required savings in circumstances where a collective deal has not been reached between Government and unions. It is understood Mr Mulvey last night told Mr Howlin that agreements in principle had been reached with a considerable number of unions.

Speaking after meeting Mr Howlin last night Mr Mulvey said: “Not all unions are over the line, so there’s a small opportunity to get them over the line. Over the next 48 hours we’ll continue to see what can be achieved”. However Mr Mulvey insisted 48 hours did not constitute a deadline.

Among those with whom agreements have been reached in principle are the Garda representative bodies that walked out several months ago. Last night health service management offered nurses a deal that would restore double time premium rates for Sundays and public holidays in return for an increased working week from 37.5 to 39 hours.