Analysis: Pressure mounts over public service pay

Government given ultimatum by Siptu ahead of key meeting of unions next week

Siptu president Jack O’Connor said the union would authorise ballots for strike action if the Government does not agree in principle by next Thursday to enter into a new pay talks process. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Siptu president Jack O’Connor said the union would authorise ballots for strike action if the Government does not agree in principle by next Thursday to enter into a new pay talks process. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

Pressure on the Government over public service pay is continuing to increase, almost by the day.

An effective ultimatum has been issued by Siptu president Jack O’Connor, who said the union, which has 60,000 public service members, would authorise ballots for strike action if the Government does not agree in principle by next Thursday to enter into a new pay talks process.

Public servants are already scheduled to receive a €1,000 pay rise under the terms of the Lansdowne Road agreement next September. O’Connor has said he believes workers deserve more.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe last Monday met senior public service union leaders and agreed that contacts would continue.

The Government has been insisting that the Lansdowne Road deal on public service pay remains intact and that the fixed timeline for a successor agreement, being negotiated next summer for implementation in 2018, is still in place.

Few industrial relations observers actually believe this is the case in the wake of the Labour Court recommendation last week for gardaí, which is worth more than €40 million.

New talks process

Next Wednesday the public service committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions – the umbrella body for most public service groups – will meet in Belfast and is likely to adopt a formal position seeking the Government to enter into a new talks process on a successor agreement to Lansdowne Road.

Many unions do not want to see the emergence of a pay free for all, which could see the bulk of available resources going to those who shouted loudest and which could also threaten highly valued protections currently in place against privatisation and out-sourcing of work.

The Government has yet to show its hand although in private a number of senior union figures expect that it will ultimately agree to some form of process getting under way early next year, perhaps in conjunction with an initial report from the Public Service Pay Commission.

Key questions will be how much a new pay process will end up costing and how this would be funded – particularly as the Government has only allocated in the budget for 2017 the €290 million originally envisaged to meet the cost of Lansdowne Road next year.

Rejection

But it is hard to see unions agreeing to wait until the following year for their members to secure additional money, especially if gardaí are receiving a bump in 2017.

Of course, any rejection of the Labour Court recommendation by rank-and- file gardaí would hugely complicate an already difficult situation.

In addition, the Government is facing demands from nurses for additional payments to tackle recruitment and retention problems. It is understood they will be looking carefully at a deal reached between the Impact union and Government to facilitate the filling of vacancies in the Chief State Solicitors Office which was experiencing difficulties recruiting.

It is understood that in some cases this deal permitted staff to be recruited not at the bottom of the pay scale but up to 10 points along the scale. The numbers involved are understood to be small and evidence had to be produced to show that recruitment competitions had been unsuccessful.

The numbers in nursing are far larger and the costs of any similar arrangement would be significantly higher.