Howlin stands firm on need to cut pay by €300m

Minister reiterates commitment to public sector savings

 Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin

Wed, Apr 24, 2013, 09:56

The Government has signalled to staff in the public service that if it was a private sector employer, job losses would now be on the cards following the rejection of the move to cut the pay bill.

In a speech to the Dail last night, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin reiterated the Government’s commitment to making savings of €300 million in the public service pay and pensions bill this year.

The Minister’s speech amounted to a rejection of the proposal from Jack O’Connor, the head of the country’s largest union, Siptu, that an alternative to pay cuts was possible.

Mr O’Connor suggested that some of the proceeds from the recent promissory note deal and greater taxation of the wealthy would reduce the need for the planned savings in the public service pay bill.

However, Mr Howlin told the Dail that the Government was willing to talk to staff representatives who were prepared to reach “a realistic compromise” on how to make savings.

He also warned that the reality of the budgetary timetable meant that time for any discussions was running out.

The Government yesterday asked the chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission Kieran Mulvey to contact the parties to determine whether there was a basis for a basis for a negotiated agreement.

However the Cabinet insisted that €300 million in savings and €1 billion by 2015 would have to be generated from the public service pay and pensions bill.

In his speech last night Mr Howlin warned that the public finances -or the employer of 300,000 staff across the public service --remained in a very serious situation position.

“I have heard some teachers unions representatives defend their move towards strike ballots by claiming they are not the ‘aggressors’ here. I find the language used strange. There are no ‘aggressors’ here - merely a Government seeking to make good the huge hole in the public finances caused by Deputy Martin’s party. This issue arises solely because of the place we collectively find ourselves in. The public finances - or in normal labour relations parlance, the employer - remains in a perilous position. Were this the private sector there would be a lot of jobs at stake.

Mr Mulvey is expected to hold talks with all public service unions and organisations -including the Garda epresentative bodies which walked out of the recent Croke Park talks.

However given the Government’s insistence on generating its planned €1 billion from the pay bill, many industrial relations observers believe it is highly unlikely that he will be able to indicate that there was a basis for a deal with all parties.

Government sources have indicated that they would not rule out entering talks with a smaller number of unions or organisations if everyone cannot be brought on board.

Highly-placed sources last night said there would be no time in any such re-engagement to work from a blank page. Effectively the process would be about “tweaking” the proposals which were rejected by union members last week.

Mr Howlin said last night that the Government’s position since taking office has been “wedded to walking the cooperative route.”

“We want to work with trade unions that want to work with us. We would like to afford public sector workers the protections of a collective agreement.”

However highly-placed sources suggested last night that if there was no agreement the Government would have to introduce legislation to underpin pay cut s to generate the savings needed.