Civil servants' union to urge members to reject pay deal

Shay Cody, chairman of Ictu Public Services Committee, with the draft agreement following talks on an extension to the Croke Park agreement at Ballsbridge yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Shay Cody, chairman of Ictu Public Services Committee, with the draft agreement following talks on an extension to the Croke Park agreement at Ballsbridge yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times


The union representing higher civil and public servants is to recommend that its members reject the proposed new Croke Park agreement in a ballot.

The executive of the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants decided to oppose the package at a meeting this afternoon.

The union is the first to urge members to reject the proposed new deal.

Association general secretary Dave Thomas said the decision was not taken lightly. “However, given the scale of the pay cuts proposed we have no other choice but to strongly recommend a no vote on the part of our members. The current proposals follow on a range of cuts already absorbed by AHCPS members in recent years.”

He said his union’s members have already had pay reductions of between 15 per cent and 17 per cent before tax and universal social charge increases are taken into account, in addition to extra working hours.  “There are other options available to the Government, not least in the context of taxation. However these options have been steadfastly resisted,” he said. “Against a background of ongoing cuts and general erosion in take home pay and conditions the current proposed cuts are simply a step too far.”

Separately Mike Jennings, the general secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (Ifut) described the outcome of the Croke Park talks as “deeply disappointing”. That union is to hold an emergency meeting tomorrow to consider the proposals. “University staff face proposals for significant wage cuts. These proposed further cuts take no account whatever of major increases in productivity combined with substantial reductions in funding, staffing and wages throughout the university sector over the past number of years," he said.

He said staff numbers had been cut dramatically while remaining personnel were expected to cope with the highest number of students in the history of the State. “It is particularly unsatisfactory that the Department of Education failed to respond to requests by IFUT for clarification and commitments in relation to compulsory redundancies at third level. As a result IFUT will be forced to continue to fight each of these on a case-by-case basis, as we have done successfully in TCD in the past.”

Senior figures in Siptu, the country’s largest union, are to take a pay cut in line with those set out in the proposals for a new Croke Park agreement. In a statement, Siptu president Jack O’Connor, vice-president Patricia King and general secretary, Joe O’Flynn said: “It is our view that people on higher incomes should have made a contribution through taxation in Budget 2013. We have specifically argued for a levy on those earning in excess of €100,000 per annum. We had intended to declare our intention to take a further pay reduction on the basis that everyone on higher rates of pay should be contributing more through taxation but decided to await the outcome of the public service talks.

“We will be taking the pay reduction as per the proposals in the document prepared by the Labour Relations Commission. Once again, we reiterate our view that the proper way to secure a contribution from everyone on higher incomes should be through progressive taxation and should not be just imposed on people working in the public service.”

Siptu said pay levels for its staff had not been linked to remuneration in the public service for more than 20 years.

Results of ballots across the public sector trade unions are expected to be known in mid-April.

Meanwhile, the Civil and Public Service Union (CPSU), which represents 12,000 mostly lower-ranking and lower-paid state employees, said it will launch its “Nothing More to Give” campaign. The CPSU walked out of the talks along with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), the Unite union and the Irish Medical Organisation on Sunday night. The union described the work reforms and cuts as “too deep, too wide and too unfair”.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said this morning the Government will seek no further cuts to public service pay and conditions if the latest Croke Park agreement is approved by trade unions.

Speaking outside Government Buildings ahead of a Cabinet meeting this morning, Mr Howlin said there would be a significant hole in the Government’s "budgetary arithmetic" if the Labour Court proposals, the full details of which are to be published later today, are not accepted. The Government had tried to find a way to generate €300 million in savings this year in as "agreed a way as possible" through the negotiations, Mr Howlin said.

However, he acknowledged it could be difficult for public sector workers, who had already "carried a lot of burdens like everyone in society", to swallow further cuts.

Last ask

"I have said to public servants that this is the last ask. If you consider this, swallow hard as I know it's not easy and vote for this, we will not be coming back again and we can plan our recovery over the next three years," Mr Howlin said. "Hopefully the next time we sit down to discuss pay and conditions with the public servants it will be on the basis of a recovered economy and we can talk about improvements in pay and conditions."

Under the proposed deal, retired public service staff who receive annual pensions in excess of €32,500 are to face further cuts. The deal, which is being resisted by major health unions, was signed yesterday morning after talks continued throughout Sunday night.

Draft background documents to the deal suggest that compulsory redundancies could apply in certain circumstances where staff could not be redeployed and who declined voluntary redundancy, unions insist the final version of the agreement, which is due to be published later today, does not include reference to compulsory redundancies.

Mr Howlin this morning said the Government was not seeking any compulsory redundancies in the deal.

The threshold for pension cuts set out in drafts of the agreement is half the €65,000 threshold at which pay cuts of 5.5 per cent will kick in.

The pay reductions rise progressively to a cut of 10 per cent from salaries above €185,000. Pay increments will also be frozen under the new deal.

It is understood about 80 per cent of public service pensioners receive less than €30,000, so the pension reduction will apply to a relatively small but significant number of retirees.

However, the exact level of the pension cut remains unclear.

Chance for scrutiny

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, speaking on his arrival at Government Buildings today, said the proposed agreement would be published in full later and that everyone would then have a chance to scrutinise it.

The draft agreement, seen by The Irish Times, said the parties noted that the Government was planning to align cuts to pensions paid to retired personnel to the reductions being put in place in pay for serving public servants under the new agreement.

The Department of Public Expenditure made only a passing reference to the situation in relation to retired public service staff in its official briefing note on the deal. Those facing cuts include former taoisigh, former ministers and other office holders.

As a result of the pay deal, Mr Kenny will see his €200,000 salary reduced to €185,350, while Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore will see his €184,405 salary drop to €171,308.

Following the 2011 referendum on judicial pay, the salaries of judges will also be decreased under the new deal.

The Government, which said it would have to introduce legislation to underpin the agreement, expects a campaign of resistance from unions.

“These proposals constitute a fair and balanced agenda to repair our public finances,” Mr Howlin said. “All public sector workers have already made a significant contribution to our economic recovery. However, these further measures are absolutely required to achieve a sustainable payroll cost.”

Unions to meet

The executive committees of most public service unions expect to meet in the coming days to consider the Labour Court recommendation on the deal. By the weekend it should become clear whether unions are to ballot members and what recommendation, if any, they are making on the proposals.

However, many of the unions that left the talks process before the agreement was reached showed no sign of changing their stance. Whether they ultimately decide to take industrial action remains to be seen. The Irish Medical Organisation said the proposals “confirmed we were right to walk out of the talks”.

The executive council of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation will meet on Thursday to agree its next steps.

Fianna Fáil public expenditure spokesman Seán Fleming said the test that should apply was whether the deal was fair.

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