Howlin refuses to be drawn on pay cut legislation
Minister accused of putting out ‘black propaganda’ against health workers
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin: said that different workers voted against Croke Park II for different reasons
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has again refused to say if the Government will introduce legislation to cut public service pay following the rejection of Croke Park II.
He said it remained the Government’s view that a negotiated settlement was the preferable way of advancing the issue. “That is why we did not take unilateral action, as our predecessor government did,” he added.
“In a very measured way, we opened the books of the State to the trade unions to understand that we had a hole in the arithmetic, thanks to the previous administration, who had unallocated savings for this year, but especially for next year, that could not be met by continuing reductions across the board in frontline services.”
Mr Howlin said the trade union movement would want to reflect on its position, and the Government would do the same. “But the inescapable issue that we have to address is that we need to find €300 million this year from additional payroll savings,” he added.
Clarity for workers
The Minister was replying to Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald who said it was absolutely critical that he make it clear to the unions, but most importantly to the workers, that he accepted their verdict and clarify that he would not legislate for an across-the-board pay cut.
“Reflect by all means, consider by all means, but please do make it clear to workers, particularly low-paid civil servants and public servants, that you, a Labour Minister, will not legislate across the board for a 7 per cent pay cut,” she added.
Ms McDonald said it was perfectly reasonable to ask Mr Howlin what plan B was.
Mr Howlin said he agreed entirely that asking any set of workers to vote for a worsening of their conditions was difficult. “But all the adjustments we have made over the past few years have been difficult on people dependent on social welfare, health services and education services,” he added.
Fianna Fáil public expenditure spokesman Sean Fleming accused Mr Howlin of contributing to the rejection of the deal, adding that he had put out “black propaganda” against health workers.
“You then, at a critical time in the talks, caused a large number of public sector workers to withdraw,” he added. “You set on a policy of divide and conquer.”
Mr Fleming said the Minister had threatened a pay cut, which was the opposite of what he had earlier said in a media interview. He added that Mr Howlin should address where he was going next on the issue.
Denying that he had been engaged in “black propaganda”, Mr Howlin said he was not going to “engage in fisticuffs on this really important issue’, adding that Mr Fleming should put on the record anything he said that was untrue.
The Minister said the issue to be addressed was a shortfall of €300 million on the pay side of the budget. “It is something we have to address because I do not intend, and the Government does not intend, for this matter to simply continue to a crisis point,” he added.
It was clear, said Mr Howlin, that different workers voted for different reasons. “The very highest-paid, including the IMO and senior civil servants, rejected it,” he added. “They were hardly doing it because it failed to impact on high pay.”
Others, he said, had voted against it for other reasons. The Government would reflect on that but the inescapable issue was that the money had to be found.