Shocked unions will find many proposals very hard to swallow
The extent of the cuts and reforms proposed by public service management yesterday as part of the extension to the Croke Park agreement shocked many trade union leaders.
Union leaders argue that not only would the measures set out in the opening presentation by the Government side hit their members hard in the pocket but they would also fundamentally curtail their traditional employment rights.
Some union leaders said last night that if the proposals put forward yesterday represented the Government’s bottom line, not only would there be no chance of an overall new deal but that it might not be possible to even stay in the new talks.
Over the days and weeks ahead unions will seek to negotiate around the measures put forward by the Government to see if more palatable measures, from their perspective, can be secured.
At the talks yesterday the Government’s chief negotiator Paul Reid set out measures to generate an extra €1 billion reduction to the State’s pay and pensions bill under three headings. These were productivity and efficiency measures, workforce reform, and further pay and pension initiatives.
There were unpalatable proposals for all parts of the public service – Civil Service, health service, education sector, local authorities, gardaí, Defence Forces, State agencies, and more.
As part of the productivity and efficiency proposals management proposed extending the working day by one hour.
It suggested ending the special “twilight” premium payment to groups such as nurses for working between 6.00 pm and 8.00pm.
There would be significant modification to the double-time payments on Sunday, and also changes to supervision and substitution payments for teachers.
There would also be greater facility for management to roster staff on five out of any six or five out of any seven days, as well as extended opening hours for public offices.
Under workplace reform there would be simplified arrangements for more flexible and faster redeployment of staff, including an extension of the current maximum distance of 45km that personnel can be required to move.
There would also be changes to some flexitime arrangements and new performance-based contracts for management grades.
There would also be a rationalisation of existing grade structures and increased staff flexibility in the assignment of work, including duties previously performed at more senior levels.
The new pay measures include proposals to eliminate incremental pay scales, pay cuts for certain (unspecified personnel) and a review of allowances.
One union leader said that apart from the pay changes the management objective appeared to be to tell staff when they would work, where they work, how they would work and if they did not like it they could leave.
Although unions say the issue of compulsory redundancies was not specifically mentioned, the view of management seemed to be that if staff did not accept suitable redeployment arrangements across the public service, an exit package would be provided for them.
For the unions the issue of the guarantee against compulsory redundancies goes to the heart of the Croke Park agreement and represents a fundamental principle.
If the Government is serious about seeking to water this down the unions can be expected to resist strongly.
Reforms: What’s on the table
Unions said that among the measures proposed by management in its opening session on the extension to the Croke Park agreement were:
Staff to work one hour extra per day
Pay cuts for staff at certain (unspecified) levels
Extension to the distance staff can be asked to travel under redeployment
Modifications to premium payments for Saturday and Sunday work, end to “twilight” premium payments
Elimination of incremental scales
New redundancy programme
Compulsory redundancy not specifically mentioned but suggestions of exit mechanisms for staff who do not accept redeployment
New measures to strengthen performance management, including robust action to manage underperformance
New performance management contracts for some management grades
Extended opening hours for public offices
Progression across grades on merit only with competitive promotion
Changes to flexitime