Plan to cut pay bill will proceed, says Cowen


TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowenwarned that the threatened second public sector strike would not influence the Government in its approach to reducing the State pay and pensions bill.

“It is not a question of what dates are set for strikes that will dictate the Government’s position here,” he said. “It is the objective merits of the situation that require that we proceed . . . to do, as I said, on agreed basis is preferable once we meet the objectives of what we are talking about.”

Mr Cowen said the State’s financial situation was such that those objectives had to be met.

He was responding in the Dáil to the announcement that there would be a second strike on December 3rd, six days before the budget, unless agreement was reached in negotiations with the Government. Mr Cowen said there was “a challenging agenda” for today’s talks between the Government and the trade unions.

“I believe that those discussions are being entered into in good faith and there is an understanding and recognition of the Government’s position in terms of the financial realities we have to deal with,” he added.

Mr Cowen said there was limited time available in which to see whether the basis of an agreement existed or not. He said that the Government had decisions to take, at the latest on December 9th.

“The discussions we are having are at the suggestion of the trade unions and we are examining policy options that would provide the savings, while at the same time providing us with a means to proceed with a process of reform that will meet the existing commitments that all parties entered into agreement about in the Towards 2016 document,” he added.

Mr Cowen was replying to Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, who asked him if he was confident that he could arrive at a position today whereby further industrial disputes would be averted.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmoreasked if it was the Taoiseach’s intention to reach agreement with the public service trade unions on issues relating to pay and reorganisation prior to the budget.

Mr Cowen said the Government’s objective was, if possible, to proceed on the basis of an agreement that met the economic and financial objectives it set itself.

He added that, over the past 12 years, many initiatives were taken relating to the modernisation of the public service. Where there had been success in achieving that, was a good indicator of what was possible when there was a good motivated management with good staff representation.

“The need for flexibility is critical . . . the need to move beyond organisational boundaries and see the sort of working approach regards where people are employed . . . a team effort and maximise the service for people, given that there are limited resources,” said Mr Cowen.

The need for change should be seen as a positive prospect rather than something to be postponed or not proceeded with, he added.

Mr Kenny asked Mr Cowen if he thought in hindsight, it was a good idea to pay benchmarking without securing benchmarks for efficiency in the public service.

Mr Cowen said increases under that system were conditional on the delivery of “real and verifiable” output. When agreement on modernisation and flexibility was delayed, payments were delayed.