Working hours the likely currency of deal
Analysis:The Government’s decision yesterday to invite public service unions to talks on a new Croke Park–style agreement on reform and productivity came as no surprise.
The Government had flagged its intention on this issue to unions several weeks ago. In the interim some union leaders had begun advising activists that given the requirement of the Government to generate an additional €1 billion by 2015 as a result of the lack of economic growth it was always likely to look again at its public service pay and pensions bill.
The current Croke Park agreement, which guarantees no further pay cuts and no compulsory redundancies in return for co-operation with reforms, is due to expire in 2014.
The public service committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is to meet today to consider the Government’s invitation.
However, even if it agrees to enter a talks process, many hurdles will have to be cleared before any new agreement is put in place.
First the Government will have to spell out what it is looking for in any new accord.
Given that it wants to generate savings from new measures next year – while the Croke Park agreement is still running – it appears it wants to renegotiate the existing deal, keeping the core protections but allowing it to put new reforms on the table.
The largest public service union, Impact, told members yesterday that the Government was, in effect, looking for an extension to the current Croke Park agreement.
However, if it is to be an extension, a key issue is likely to be how long its lifespan would be. Essentially, how long would the Government commit to the guarantees on pay and job security in return for new – and probably more onerous – reforms and productivity on the part of staff?
Another key issue will be what type of new reforms and productivity measures will the Government seek in any new deal and how onerous they would be viewed by staff. It would seem logical that these measures would have to be outside the scope of the current accord, otherwise there would be no need for a new deal.
Most union leaders anticipate that additional working hours will be the main currency of any new agreement.
It is also difficult to see the Government renegotiating Croke Park without coming under pressure to put reforms to incremental pay increases – particularly for higher earners – on the table.
However, even if the Government tables proposals, these will first have to be negotiated with union leaders and subsequently put out to ballot. Some union leaders are already warning privately that ballots could be a tricky process, with no guarantees of acceptance.