Leave days 'could be spread over three years'

Wed, Dec 2, 2009, 00:00

PUBLIC SECTOR workers could take the proposed extra 12 days of unpaid leave over a three-year period, where this was appropriate, a leading trade union negotiator said last night.

General secretary of the Impact union Peter McLoone told reporters outside Government Buildings that the one-day public sector strike planned for tomorrow was being deferred, “in the light of the progress that has been made in the negotiations”.

He said the public sector unions had been told earlier in the day that the Government recognised it was possible to “design an alternative” to the pay cuts advocated by Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan.

This alternative would be based on an extra 12 days of unpaid leave in 2010. “The objective we’re seeking to achieve is that we would persuade the Minister for Finance that he should not use the instrument of cutting pay either permanently or temporarily”.

Asked if the one-day strike was permanently cancelled or simply postponed pending a satisfactory outcome to negotiations, Mr McLoone said: “The action was threatened on the basis that it would take place if these talks failed.

“Clearly the position that we’re in this evening is that these talks are more likely to succeed than to fail so it’s on that basis that we felt we should defer Thursday and spend our time making all the efforts that we can to complete an overall arrangement with the Government.”

He added: “The way that we’ve approached the unpaid leave is to recognise that this has to be handled in a way that doesn’t put the services at risk, it doesn’t diminish services, so there’s a facility there within each of the sectors that the unpaid leave can be banked and maybe taken over an extended period of three years, but again that’s detail that we’ll finalise over the next two days.”

Asked to comment on reports that the unpaid leave proposal could save the exchequer €800 million, he replied: “There are lots of figures going around about that. What we need to do tomorrow in order that we’re clear and agreed on the contribution is to look at precisely what the figure is. I’ve read figures of €750 million; I’ve read figures of €800 million; I’ve read figures of €875 million. All we know is that it is hugely significant and certainly is of the order that it satisfies the Government . . . that it is now possible to do what we have suggested was the best course of action, which was to develop an alternative. This stuff is still challenging, but given the progress that we have made to date, the feeling on both sides is that, whatever challenges present, we should be able to overcome them.”

Asked how the scheme would work for the teaching profession, he replied: “By tomorrow evening you will be able to talk to the teacher unions directly, which is the appropriate position to have, about how this is going to be managed for them.”