Decisive action is required to address the impact inflation is having on people’s incomes, the president of Fórsa trade union has said ahead of formal talks on a new public sector pay agreement beginning next week.
Michael Smyth told delegates at the union’s biennial conference in Killarney, Co Kerry that the rising cost of living had “put sudden and sustained pressure” on workers and the movement has had to respond “quickly and decisively”.
Almost 700 delegates representing the union’s 80,000 members from across the across the civil service and public sector are due to debate motions relating to national agreements and pay on Thursday.
Branches from across the State are expected to support demands for significant pay increases to compensate for levels of inflation that had not been envisaged when the current Building Momentum agreement, which provided for rises of 1 per cent this year and last, was reached.
Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan is expected to give members a sense of the union’s position heading into the talks with Department of Public Expenditure and Reform representatives in his address to the conference on Thursday.
The various motions proposed on the issue do not seek to tie the union’s leadership to specific numbers. Several call for the pay element of any deals struck to provide increases that, at a minimum, match inflation, which the European Commission estimates will run at 6.1 per cent in Ireland this year.
Fórsa, as a key member of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ Public Services Committee, will be seeking to negotiate a review of the current deal with Government, which runs until the end of this year, and a new one to cover next year and possibly beyond.
At preliminary talks held last week, department officials indicated that the Government was keen to find some certainty around public sector pay ahead of October’s budget given the volatility being encountered on other fronts.
The Irish Congress of Trade Union representatives sought clarification on whether the Government negotiators would be seeking changes to public sector modernisation commitments contained in the Building Momentum deal.
The department officials said they would consider the issue and respond when talks are properly underway next week.
Further reforms are expected to be targeted by the Government side in the talks, as previously indicated by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.
Remote working is among the other key issues to be debated over the next two days at the conference. The Government had previously indicated that it expects around 20 per cent of public sector jobs to be performed from home following the pandemic.
Mr Smyth was deeply critical of the Government’s approach to legislating on the issue in his address to delegates. He argued that the various reasons to refuse a request to work from home provided for in a draft Bill revealed a Government “prepared to pander to every employer sensitivity and stereotype, no matter how baseless, falling back on old and outmoded ways of thinking about the relationship between employers and workers”.
He said Fórsa regards the 20 per cent figure as “a floor rather than a ceiling,” and described the Government’s approach on the issue to date as “a spectacular own goal”.