Siptu warns Government against letting public sector pay agreement ‘get away from them’

Unions are prepared to be flexible but reaching an agreement with inflation at 9% looks a little bit more difficult, says senior union official

The Government is at risk of letting an agreement on public sector pay “get away from them”, a senior union official has warned.

John King, deputy secretary general of Siptu, said that with inflation standing at more than 9 per cent, reaching an agreement “looks a little bit more difficult” while also saying unions are prepared to be “flexible”.

Talks between the Government and public sector unions are expected by both sides to resume before the end of August after a previous effort to reach agreement broke down in mid-June.

A Government offer of a combined 5 per cent pay increase over two years on top of the 2 per cent in the existing deal was rejected by unions at the time as “not credible”.


In recent weeks, senior Coalition figures including Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath have signaled a willingness to make a new offer.

Mr McGrath told the Sunday Independent that the Government was “prepared to make a move” but that pay increases wouldn’t be able to match record levels of inflation. He said unions would have to “demonstrate flexibility” as well.

Mr King welcomed Mr McGrath’s comments which he said “would appear to be somewhat consistent with some of the mood music that has been played out into the media over the last couple of weeks”.

In an interview with Newstalk radio’s Breakfast show, he said unions were “anxious” for talks at the Workplace Relations Commission to reconvene.

No date has yet been set for the two sides to renew discussions though this is expected to take place before the end of the month.

Many public sector unions are due to start balloting on potential industrial action from August 29th.

Mr King warned: “The delay in not being able to conclude an agreement is that the Government are at risk of letting an agreement get away from them.

“When the talks broke down... inflation was slightly north of 6 per cent and it was difficult to close out an agreement in that context. Inflation is now north of 9 per cent which means the job of trying to reach an agreement looks a little bit more difficult.”

He added: “The sooner we get in to having a conversation around where we might be able to settle this, the better.”

Mr King refused to say what percentage of a pay increase unions would settle for but said: “We are prepared to compromise and be flexible in relation to an agreement.

“But the agreement has to be meaningful and it has to be of benefit to public servants.”

He said the current public pay agreement “has been completely eroded by any stretch of the imagination by the rate of inflation”.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Expenditure said “Minister McGrath has indicated that when the talks recommence shortly the Government will be tabling a revised offer.”

She added: “This will reflect the importance of delivering an agreement that is fair to public sector employees and reflects the overall budgetary constraints in which the State must operate.”

The spokeswoman said that renewed talks at the WRC will commence before the end of August subject to the availability of all sides.

“Minister McGrath expects further engagement next week by the WRC with the parties with a view to agreeing a date for talks to commence shortly afterwards,” she said.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times