Public sector pay talks to begin at WRC this week as unions agree to negotiations

Workers’ side had wanted post-crash legislation repealed before starting, but will now form part of talks

The Government will do everything it can to reach an agreement with public service unions before the end of year, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has said. His comments came after unions accepted to attend talks at the Workplace Relations Commission on a new deal in the coming days.

The Government was clear on what it wanted and was willing to negotiate to reach an agreement on pay “and other matters” in return for industrial peace, Paschal Donohoe told RTÉ Radio’s News at One on Wednesday.

“The key thing for me is that we deliver two things,” he said. “The first one is certainty regarding how we can put more money back in people’s pockets in the context of new wage agreements that would be affordable to the taxpayer.

“But the second key feature is that in return for that, we have industrial peace and the maintenance of stability and industrial relations in our country, which has served us well in difficult times.


When asked if the agreement could be reached before the current agreement runs out on December 31st, Mr Donohoe said: “We’ll certainly do all we can to get there. I do anticipate these discussions are going to be difficult and they may take some time. But in other agreements that I’ve worked on, once we get into the Workplace Relations Commission, it has been possible to secure agreement over a number of weeks.”

So the time is there. But I do think we’ll have a lot of work to do, and I anticipate we’ll have a few tough moments along the way. But I and the Government are clear on what we are looking for, we are full of good will and determination to try to find that agreement.”

Mr Donohoe said he was well aware of the impact of inflation and the high cost of living on living standards on those who provide public services and the value of having a collective agreement with them.

“We have tried to help people put money in their pockets in other ways, through the energy credits for example and through what we are doing in reducing the cost of childcare. But public pay has to be part of that and we will engage in those parameters in good faith in the coming days.”

The precise schedule for the start of talks has yet to be finalised and will depend on the availability of personnel at the WRC but they are now expected to start by the start of next week.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the unions said the talks would “now concentrate on trying to reach agreement on short-term pay measures to address cost-of-living and labour market pressures”.

The unions had written to Paschal Donohoe on Friday to say they wanted the repeal of remaining aspects of legislation introduced after the financial crash more than a decade ago before the talks got under way. They believe the Fempi clauses give the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform an effective veto on more day to day negotiations.

The example of the retained firefighters is routinely cited with the Local Government Management Association and Department of Housing both limited in what they could do to address what was widely regarded as a strong and exceptional claim because, it is said, of DPER’s reluctance to see the wider national pay agreement compromised.

In a reply received on Tuesday, Mr Donohoe said he was “not aware of any practical impact” of the remaining legislative clauses but that he was happy for discussion of the clauses to be part of the wider negotiations.

In their statement, the unions expressed surprise at the suggestion the clauses are of little significance.

The unions confirmed they would enter the talks process after the leadership of the Public Sector Committee consulted with its 19 member unions on Wednesday morning.

The unions’ position is that the Government’s target of a multiyear deal will be much harder to achieve because of the Minister’s position and so talks will now focus on a shorter term, most likely one year.

If the talks are effectively limited to pay with broader union concerns regarding what they described as the “normalisation” of industrial relations in the public sector not dealt with, then any deal might, it is suggested, effectively amount to another extension of the 2021 agreement, Building Momentum, which initially ran for two years before another 12 months was added, bringing the arrangement up to the end of next month.

After the increases contained in the original deal were made to look very modest by a sudden jump in the cost of living related to the war in Ukraine and other factors, that 12 month extension delivered pay increases of 6.5 per cent for the majority of public sector workers with higher gains for lower paid workers.

Though there were other aspects to the arrangement, including favourable changes to the number of hours worked, overall pay increases during the three year period still fell short of inflation and there has been pressure from members of some of the 19 public service unions to recover some of that ground in these talks.

With every 1 per cent increase costing the Government around €250 million, there will be pressure too from the employers’ side, however, to resist anything that might contribute to future problems in the event of a change in the wider economic climate.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times

Vivienne Clarke

Vivienne Clarke is a reporter