Garda pay report undermines case for public sector wage increases

Pension benefits for public servants are unavailable and largely unfundable in private sector

Garda Representative Association president Ciaran O’Neill, general secretary Pat Ennis, and treasurer Tom Finnan at a briefing last October on the organisation’s planned strike action. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Garda Representative Association president Ciaran O’Neill, general secretary Pat Ennis, and treasurer Tom Finnan at a briefing last October on the organisation’s planned strike action. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

The implications of the report on Garda pay, produced by John Horgan and published on Monday, go beyond An Garda Síochána itself.

In particular, the report on the value of the Garda pensions will be scrutinised by Government, the public sector unions, and the commission set up by the Government to report on public sector pay, conditions and pensions.

It is beyond serious dispute that public sector pensions are extremely valuable. The arrangements for public servants – a pension after full service of 50 per cent of final salary with a lump sum of 150 per cent when they retire – are unavailable and (for most employers) unfundable in the private sector.

But the Horgan report suggests that the premium pensions are even more valuable than previously estimated.

Horgan admits that his calculations are “rough and ready”. But any more precise findings will be based on the same numbers.

He estimates that the value of the Garda pensions bring amounts to a whopping 80 per cent of pay for the average garda – bringing the value of average garda pay including pension rights to more than €100,000 a year.

Looked at another way: the value of the pension could be calculated as an additional 50 per cent of pay.

These are huge numbers.

Better pension arrangements

Gardaí enjoy better pension arrangements than other public servants. Their full service is 30 years, while a normal public servant’s is 40 years. But even allowing for this, if the Public Sector Pay Commission makes similar findings to Horgan, it will find that once the pension is included, public service pay is miles ahead of average private sector pay.

The Government’s submission to the commission recommends that the value ascribed to public sector pensions be greater than the 12 per cent applied at the 2007 benchmarking exercise. But on the evidence of Horgan’s report, it should be vastly more than that.

That will make the case for public sector pay increases a difficult one to sustain. But without public sector pay increases next year, the Government will almost certainly be facing a wave of strikes.

Garda representatives said the Horgan report would “sow confusion”. But there is nothing confusing about the numbers: they show that, on average, gardaí are paid more than any other public servants, and lots more than the average private sector worker.

Undeniable clarity

There is nothing new in these numbers; most of them are available from the Central Statistics Office’s regular surveys. But the Horgan report brings them together in a way that offers an undeniable clarity on the relative bounty of Garda pay.

Had this report been published before the threatened Garda strikes, it would certainly have undermined the case for the hefty increases in pay that the Labour Court subsequently announced.

Average gross pay for a garda in the second quarter of this year is €68,000 a year, including allowances and overtime. That will increase by about €4,000 a year when the Labour Court recommendations are included.

The picture effectively painted by the Garda unions, of near-destitute families and gardaí sleeping in their cars, is no doubt true in individual instances. But the report suggests that they are extreme exceptions.

Public sector pay has been simmering as a political issue for months; the Hogan report has turned up the temperature underneath it.

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