Unions agree to enter new pay talks

Wed, Nov 21, 2012, 00:00

Public service trade unions have agreed to meet the Government for initial talks on its proposals for a new deal on cost savings.

The meeting with Government officials is to take place next Wednesday.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin yesterday invited the unions to talks in an effort to save, by agreement, €1 billion over the next three in the public service pay and pensions bill. The Government is hoping accord can be reached by early in the new year.

A spokesman for the public service committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions said after a meeting in Dublin this afternoon that unions would be attending the talks without preconditions "to hear what management has to say".

He added: "An important caveat is that most unions have yet to consult internally about their attitude to the talks.

"Our expectation is that management will effectively, in more detail, outline the rationale for the invitation to talks rather than necessarily giving a very detailed agenda of what they will be looking for in those talks. But next week will see the process get underway. "

This morning, Mr Howlin argued some public sector allowances should be incorporated in to core pay while others must be cut.

“There are some allowances that are clearly not [core pay] and those we need to get rid of,"  Mr Howlin told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland. "Some of that is happening in terms of new appointees, some of that is happening under the existing architecture of Croke Park where there is a facility to buy that out, and some more of them will hopefully be addressed in new talks.”

Mr Howlin said he was inviting the public sector unions to address the issue of “unallocated savings that are in the programme for expenditure”.

He added: “We either cut further frontline services or we look for further savings in the pay bill which is 35 per cent of all expenditure.”

He said he did not expect the unions to walk away from the talks. “They know the desperate state the country is in. They know what has to be done."

Unions expect one of the main changes the Government will propose is longer working hours for staff with no additional pay. Other issues such as increments, premium pay rates and possibly reforms to existing grade structures could be on the agenda for the discussions.

Senior higher-paid staff who already work flexible hours could face cuts in their overall pay levels. Earlier this year, the Health Service Executive proposed staff should work two additional hours per week for the next three years.

The Government said yesterday the guarantees set out in the Croke Park agreement, no further cuts in core pay and no compulsory redundancies, would remain in force.

Government sources emphasised that savings of €1 billion in the pay and pensions bill were required by the end of 2015 “to meet the fiscal challenges” demanded by the bailout programme.

No precise details

However, the Government side declined to spell out precisely the nature of the reforms to work practices and the new productivity measures it would be seeking.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said the Government would be seeking to secure “a significant advance” on the workplace change already delivered by public servants, and “a large sustainable additional fall in the cost of public service delivery in the period to 2015”.

“The Government is determined to meet its fiscal consolidation targets and reduce its deficit to less than 3 per cent by 2015. The gross public service pay and pensions bill accounts for 35 per cent of overall spending in 2012. On this basis, the Government considers that it is fair that it should contribute broadly one-third of the substantial expenditure consolidation that will be necessary over the next three years,” said the department.

It added that if the public service pay and pensions bill was to make the necessary contribution to the consolidation in expenditure necessary up to 2015, a new deal, setting out a new agenda for change and productivity, was necessary.

“The Government will also be seeking to secure an additional substantial reduction in the cost of public service delivery, including in 2013, through this process. We want to secure a significant evolution on the workplace change already delivered . . .” it said.

Union reaction

The public services committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is to meet today to consider the Government’s invitation to talks on a deal. The largest public service union, Impact, will argue this should be accepted. Other unions were more cautious.

In a letter to Impact branches yesterday, union general secretary Shay Cody said members would benefit from an extension of Croke Park protections in light of dark forecasts.“The union will go into any talks with the objective of protecting members’ pay and pensions against further cuts . . . Achieving success will mean agreeing to measures that cut the public service pay bill in other ways.”

General secretary of the Civil Public and Services Union Eoin Ronayne expressed concern over whether lower-paid workers could achieve further cost savings.

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