Government signals move to end ‘two-tier’ public service pay

Department, unions issue statement suggesting review mechanism may be agreed

Teachers from several unions protest in 2018. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Teachers from several unions protest in 2018. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The Government has signalled that it will move to end the two-tier pay system in the public service as part of future negotiations with trade unions.

Two initiatives have been tabled to deal with the lower-pay arrangements for staff hired after 2011, including a phased €200 million proposal announced last September to resolve the issue by 2026.

However, unions maintained that some State employees, particularly teachers, would still be left significantly worse off than their longer-serving colleagues.

In a statement agreed with public sector unions on Monday, the Government acknowledged that “outstanding issues of concern” will now be given full consideration in either an upcoming pay review or in the context of the new round of pay talks.

No date was announced for the start of new talks on addressing the matter. The current public service pay agreement is scheduled to run until the end of next year with negotiations on a subsequent accord likely to commence in about a year’s time.

The Government has never before indicated publicly there could be any form of other “pay review mechanism” as suggested in the statement.

The Irish Times has reported that the acting secretary of the public services committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Kevin Callinan, had indicated that it would seek a mid-term review of the current pay accord in the wake of the Government’s proposed settlement with nurses after their recent strike.

The two-tier pay systems date back to measures put in place to tackle the collapse of the public finances a decade ago. The then government reduced pay rates for new entrants across the public service by 10 per cent while allowances were also scrapped. The move particularly affects teachers as they continued to be employed in the public service while a recruitment moratorium was in place almost everywhere else.

While the Government has since narrowed the gap in a number of pay deals, unions argue that new entrant teachers still face future losses of up to €19,000.

The statement represents a shift in policy by the Government, which up to now has insisted that the two-tier pay issue has been fully addressed. The wording was agreed between public sector unions and the department on the eve of teachers’ annual conferences.

Sheila Nunan, outgoing general secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), informed delegates at its annual congress in Galway yesterday that a process had been agreed with government, “finally setting a pathway towards ending pay inequality”.

John Boyle, who is due to replace Ms Nunan, said it was a move to finally get the two-tier pay issue “over the finishing line”.

A government report published last year estimated that 60,000 personnel across the public service were affected by the lower pay rates introduced for those taken on after 2011.

This included more than 16,000 teachers, nearly 5,000 special needs assistants and almost 10,000 nurses.