Talks ready to turn to specifics


Background:By tomorrow the talks on a proposed extension to the Croke Park deal will have been under way for one month.

At the start Government representatives caused consternation among union leaders when they tabled a series of radical measures aimed at generating €1 billion in savings.

These included pay cuts for high earners, increased working hours, the elimination of increments, a reduction in premium and overtime rates, and reforms to supervision and substitution payments for teachers.

Since then little has been heard publicly from the management side, with no specific proposals set out for staff in the different parts of the public service as of yet.

Over recent weeks management and key union negotiators have been involved in dealing with measures that would apply centrally across all sectors, such as the numbers to leave under a voluntary redundancy scheme, high-level pay cuts, working hours, increments and overtime.

Informed sources said these discussions aimed to determine how much each of these areas would contribute to the overall €1 billion target.

The issues are also inter-linked. For example, the scale of the additional hours to be provided could affect the number of staff the Government could seek to let go.

Separately, the talks are also seeking to ensure that all groups make a contribution – the so-called parity of pain principle.

Sources said next week the process could move on with specific proposals being given to the different sectors.

It is at this point that the process will either move more quickly towards an agreement or into a potential crisis as more groups withdraw.

Already organisations representing gardaí have pulled out in protest at threats to premium payments for weekend and night work.

Nurses have also warned that they will withdraw if presented with formal plans to cut premium payments.

The organisations representing front-line staff have said they will not accept any cuts to members’ earnings. However it is difficult to see how this could be avoided as the Government’s whole objective is to reduce the amount it pays out on its pay bill.

Government sources last night made clear that the €750 million bill for premium payments could not be exempt from the process.

While some other groups may leave, large public service unions such as Siptu and Impact are expected to remain in the talks.

However, the process is now about to enter a critical stage and there are no guarantees a deal can be reached.

Much attention has been given to the opposition of the frontline unions to proposed cuts in their areas. However, when proposals emerge for other areas such as education or Civil Service it can be expected that the protests will widen.