Acid test looms for public service pay policy and for Government

Garda, teacher pay disputes: Lansdowne Road accord facing most serious challenge

At a briefing with political correspondents on Thursday, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny said there had been "some intensive discussions" about whether scope existed within the Lansdowne Road agreement for some flexibility on pay claims by gardaí and teachers.

However, he stressed that the country did not have the resources to meet these claims, which could lead to widespread disruption across the country over the next week or so.

The Lansdowne Road accord is the centrepiece of the Government’s public service pay policy, as well being an important element in its overall budgetary strategy.

The agreement is now facing a most serious challenge and the events over the coming 10 days could have serious implications, not just for industrial relations in the public service, but also for the Government itself.


On Friday of next week more than 12,000 gardaí are set to stage an unprecedented strike over pay and access to the State’s industrial relations machinery.

On the following Monday, second-level teachers in the ASTI union are scheduled to withdraw from carrying out supervision and substitution duties which would have the effect of leading to the closure of hundreds of schools on health and safety grounds.

At the heart of this row is a decision by the ASTI to cease carrying out additional unpaid hours - the so-called 33 Croke Park hours.

Around the same time the largest nursing union, the INMO, is expected to announce a campaign of opposition by its members to working similar unpaid additional hours each week. This could have significant implications for health service costs.

Less than a week

The Government is still in talks with the ASTI and the two Garda organisations, the GRA and AGSI. However, the deadline to the start of the planned Garda strike is now less than a week away.

The strategy of the Government has been for some time to try bring the Garda bodies within the scope of the Lansdowne Road accord. This would isolate the ASTI which would be left fighting on its own. That plan suffered a setback in September when the GRA, which represents rank-and-file gardaí rejected a draft deal.

The Irish Times reported earlier this week that the Government was prepared to put a revised deal, containing some tweaks or amendments on the table which could increase the earnings of some gardaí while still remaining within the overall Lansdowne road framework.

A meeting took place on Thursday of the GRA leadership which discuss the recent negotiations but no statement was issued afterwards. Further talks with the Government are planned.

The GRA is the largest Garda body and if 10,500 rank and file gardaí could be persuaded not to take part in any strike,it would greatly help the Government’s cause.

Informed sources close to the current process appear pessimistic about the prospects of a deal with the ASTI given how far the parties seem to be apart.

The Government has come under significant pressure in recent days over its refusal to give a categoric view on whether it specifically supports the principle of equal pay for equal work. This lies at the heart of the ASTI’s campaign against lower pay rates for recently-recruited teachers and is a concept easily understood by the public.

However the Government will now hope to move the focus onto the threatened closure of schools from November 7 as a result of the ASTI withdrawal from supervision and substitution. It believes this may give present it with firmer ground on which to fight.

The Government will seek to argue that the ASTI decision to pull out of working an additional 33 hours per year which were used for training and parent/teacher meetings precipitated this row and led to the imposition of financial penalties on the union’s members under emergency legislation.

An offer by the ASTI president to suspend its action on Monday week in return for improved terms on permanent contracts for more recently qualified teachers is not really being treated seriously, particularly after he himself described it as a “a kite he was flying”.

There is no mistake that senior figures within Government are concerned at the potential strikes and the impact they may have across the country.

The next few days will be crucial.