Government and unions discuss possibility of local bargaining

Move would depart from ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach of previous public service pay deals

Nurses striking –  and winning –  pay deal in February 2019. Photograph: Alan Betson

Nurses striking – and winning – pay deal in February 2019. Photograph: Alan Betson


The Government has confirmed it is in talks with unions about the potential of local bargaining arrangements to address particular issues in different parts of the public service.

These arrangements would then form part of a new overall public sector pay deal.

Over the past decade, the Government has concluded a series of “one-size-fits-all” deals with public service unions covering pay, conditions and reforms across the entire State sector.

However, that system has come under pressure, particularly since nurses secured additional pay on top of arrangements set out in the current public service accord, following a strike earlier this year.

Government representatives held talks last week with public service union leaders about future arrangements.

The Department of Public Expenditure said in a statement there had been no outcome to the talks. However, for the first time, it spelled out publicly the nature of the issues under discussion.

“The discussions taking place are focused on exploring the potential for a sectoral bargaining process that could form part of a future public service pay agreement when the current agreement expires at end 2020.”

Local bargaining

It is understood such a system could involve a set increase in pay for all staff, with provision in the deal for some form of local bargaining arrangements in the different parts of the public service, such as health, Civil Service, local government, education, Garda or Defence Forces.

Highly placed sources stressed such issues are still at the discussion stage.

The current public service agreement is due to expire at the end of next year, but formal talks on a successor deal would have to commence by the spring or early summer of next year to allow for unions to ballot members on the terms.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe told the Cabinet in a confidential memo last month that preliminary talks with public service trade unions had looked at a process involving a local bargaining component.

In the memo it is understood that Mr Donohoe maintained that a one-size-fits-all approach – the format for all of the public-service agreements since the Croke Park accord in 2010 and which has essentially seen the vast bulk of State employees receive the same levels of increases – may not be backed by all on the trade union side.