Talks on alternative to public sector pay cuts start tomorrow

Tue, Nov 24, 2009, 00:00

TALKS BETWEEN trade unions and the Government on an alternative plan for cutting the public sector pay bill without reducing actual pay levels are expected to get under way tomorrow, in the aftermath of today’s national public service strike.

The public service committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) decided last night to re-engage in talks with the Government in relation to plans it published last Friday on transforming the public sector.

The committee leaders maintained that the Government document had not contained sufficient guarantees on pay, pensions and compulsory redundancies to merit calling off the strike.

A decision on a second stage of industrial action – which could involve either a rolling series of regional stoppages or a further nationwide 24-hour strike – is expected to be announced today.

The chairman of the Ictu public service committee, Peter McLoone, said yesterday that while no announcement had been made on plans for further action, unions recognised that if this was necessary, it would take place.

“If we do engage with the Government it will be designed to achieve some consensus on the approach that needs to be taken to the transformation programme as well as the measures needed for 2010.

“Progress is going to be measured, maybe at the back end of this week, on whether we are inching our way to a solution or not. If it proves necessary to take further action, it is more likely to happen in the context of the negotiations failing rather than anything else,” he said.

Mr McLoone acknowledged that the strike would cause hardship to people who depended most on public services and that members regretted this deeply. However, he said that members believed that the Government had forced them into a strike that no one wanted or needed.

Mr McLoone said the Government had “so far failed to engage with a willingness to negotiate a fair alternative to plans for a second huge pay cut in less than a year”.

He said he wanted to stress the determination felt by public servants who had already taken a huge pay cut this year.

“They will resist another pay cut, not least because they would see this as a signal that the Government would come back again and again to reduce their family incomes, instead of finding a fair alternative that also protects public services and the State finances,” he said.

Meanwhile, Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin said that while she understood that public sector staff wanted to make their point, people who had nothing to do at all with the public sector were going to suffer as a result of the strike.

She said that the Government would take the views of public sector unions on board and that there would be further talks in an attempt to find a resolution.

“We certainly believe it is worthwhile continuing with the talks because when you are coming to a budget where there are three major sectors to be decided on – the social welfare end, the public sector pay and services – all three of those have to make a contribution to bridging the financial gap we have.

“We want to talk to the public sector. We want to hear their views. There are lots of ways we can find that money and talks are always useful.”

Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan said that the Taoiseach had outlined the Government’s concerns to the unions about the industrial action in the public service.

Separately, Isme, the group representing small and medium businesses, has strongly criticised the planned national public service strike today and urged the Government “not to concede an inch” to trade unions.

Isme chief executive Mark Fielding described the strike as a “disgrace”.

Mr Fielding said that public sector union leaders were leading their members down a path of no return, which would cause further damage to an economy already on “life support”.