Public sector unions expected to return to talks


PUBLIC SECTOR trade unions are expected today to agree to go back into talks with the Government on a plan aimed at generating €1.3 billion in savings without cutting the pay of staff.

However, the scheduled one-day strike tomorrow involving up to 300,000 staff in the public service in protest at Government proposals for further pay cuts will go ahead.

The public service committee of Ictu is also scheduled today to consider plans for further industrial action such as another nationwide strike or a succession of regional stoppages.

However, informed sources said a decision on this could be deferred for 24 or 48 hours because of the flooding crisis.

Much of the meeting today is expected to centre on the unions considering the Government’s document on the future of the public service, which was published on Friday night.

In a statement yesterday, chairman of the committee Peter McLoone said the presentation of the paper “was not enough to call off the strike because it did not include the guarantees unions have sought over pay, pensions and compulsory redundancies”.

However, he stated that “it would move the situation on” and again said that “it should be possible to reach a negotiated agreement, which saves money and protects public services without compulsory redundancies or further pay cuts”.

Last night, Des Kavanagh, chairman of the Frontline Alliance of unions, who represent staff who operate round-the-clock services, said one of the main proposals in the document for a longer core working day was “not acceptable”.

Any new talks with the Government will effectively be based on a two-stage process involving mechanisms to save money in 2010 and an overall blueprint for transforming the public service from 2011 onwards which would produce substantial savings from job reductions and work practice reforms.

The “bridging mechanism” to save money next year would be drawn from a menu of options including:

  • Paying overtime at flat rates rather than time and half.
  • Introducing an 8am–8pm core day during which no overtime payments would apply.
  • The introduction of a number of days unpaid leave, the possibility of staff working a small number of additional hours per week and the elimination of privilege days.

The unions will press for these bridging measures to be considered “temporary” until substantial savings are generated through reductions in numbers and work practice reforms from 2011.

Highly placed sources said last night that an interim deal on cost savings for next year would at least mean that all the parties were “still in the game” and talking in relation to an overall transformation agreement.

Meanwhile, employers’ body Ibec said it was “unacceptable and wrong for unions to drag the general public, including the most vulnerable in society, into a dispute with Government over their terms and conditions”.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said he would “prefer that the strike would not take place”.