Increments 'are unjustifiable'
Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar has said that the payment of increments to staff in the public service should be deferred.
He was speaking after Minister for Health James Reilly raised the prospect of cutting overtime and premium pay rates in response to a call from Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin for “immediate action” to address a huge costs overrun at the Health Service Executive (HSE).
Any such move would have serious implications for the Croke Park agreement between the Government and public sector unions, which protects core pay until 2014.
Speaking this morning, Mr Varadkar said he recognised that cutting increments would probably be a breach of the Croke Park agreement. However, he said it was it was hard to justify giving anyone a pay increase in the current when services were being cut.
Mr Varadkar told Newstalk radio that the Government would have to make a judgement call on issues such as increments later in the year. He said a decision to defer the payments of increments could save €170 million to €200 million per year and insisted such savings would not hurt anyone.
Mr Varadkar said Minister for Finance Michael Noonan had to find about €1.25 billion in new taxes in the budget without increasing income tax and that was possible through the introduction of a property tax, through some changes to motor tax and by abolishing some tax breaks.
On the savings side, some €2.25 billion was required, with roughly €550 million coming from capital. "That’s doable too. We know how we’re going to do that," he said.
Many staff in the public service on paid on the basis of a incremental pay scale. This involves their pay increasing annually, subject to performance. Although pay cuts have been introduced across the public service, the payment of annual increments has continued.
Meanwhile, Siptu, the country’s largest trade union, has said Dr Reilly is seeking to distract attention from his performance in running the health service by raising the prospect of cuts in overtime and premium pay rates.
Siptu health service division organiser Paul Bell said the union considered overtime and premium rates to be integral parts of pay. He said there would be no further pay cuts for staff in the health service. He said this issue had been addressed under the Croke Park agreement and was closed.
Nurses today said any move by the Government to cut overtime and premium pay rates would represent "a line in the sand".
The general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives' Organisation (INMO), Liam Doran, said pay rates were protected under the Croke Park agreement as long as public servants co-operated with reform. He said staff were co-operating with the agreement.
Mr Doran said if the Government wanted to walk away from the Croke Park deal, his union would have to look at its options. He added the INMO would protect its members' interests.
Dr Reilly has proposed cuts in the €800 million currently spent annually on overtime and premium rates for health service staff should be considered as an alternative to further reductions in services.