As the Government begins talks with unions on the two-tier pay system in place for newer entrant State employees, an employer organisation has said Ministers must stand firm in the face of pay demands by public service groups.
In a statement on Friday, Isme, the organisation representing small and medium businesses, said Government should hold firm even if this results in prolonged industrial action.
Public service unions and Government officials are holding talks on Friday on the two-tier pay system, which has seen about 60,000 State employees taken on since January 2011 receive less than more long-serving colleagues.
The unions want the Government to accelerate its plans for ending this two-tier pay structure and to include funding for this purpose in the Budget next October.
However, Isme said the Government should hold firm and that “resisting unjustified public service pay demands is absolutely essential”.
It argued that public service staff in Ireland were among the best paid in Europe, and already enjoyed a large pay-premium over private sector workers.
The country’s largest public service trade union Fórsa said ending the two-tier pay system was “an equity issue”.
The union's spokesman Bernard Harbor said that while no money has been allocated to resolve the issue in 2018, Fórsa believed "that Ireland's strengthening economic and exchequer recovery means it should be possible to start funding it next year, rather than delaying until 2020 or beyond".
The Government has previously stated that while a review of this arrangement could take place, there would be no funding to end the two-tier system before the end of 2020 when the current public service pay deal expires.
Earlier this month, the annual conferences of the three main teachers’ unions backed motions calling for potential strike action unless the Government committed by May to abolishing two-tier pay for newer entrants
Isme said if public service personnel “feel the grass is greener outside the public service, there are thousands of vacancies available for them to fill right now in the private sector”.
The organisation’s chief executive Neil McDonnell said “Ireland must not repeat the disaster that was Benchmarking in 2002. Resisting unjustified public service pay demands is absolutely essential, even if it results in substantial, prolonged, and potentially damaging industrial unrest. This would be a price worth paying to avoid the mistakes of the recent past.”
A spokesman for Fórsa said Friday’s meeting between Government and public service trade unions would likely be the first of a series of engagements dealing with the practicalities of equalising the length of pay scales.
The union said the term “new entrants” referred to those employed in the civil and public service since January 2011.
It said their pay scales were currently two points longer than those of other staff, which meant it took them two years longer to get to the top of their pay scale.
It said negotiators had to deal with the technical challenges presented by the fact that the length of pay scales varied widely across the civil and public service. Fórsa also said in addition unions wanted to ensure that any solution was fair to all new entrants, regardless of how long they have been employed.
It said no money was budgeted to deal with the issue in 2018, and the Government had not yet conceded Fórsa’s call for some money to change hands next year.
Mr Harbor said: “This is an equity issue and, while no money has been allocated to resolve it in 2018, Fórsa believes that Ireland’s strengthening economic and exchequer recovery means it should be possible to start funding it next year, rather than delaying until 2020 or beyond. That would require funds to be allocated in October’s Budget.
“Pay equity is a priority for all trade unions, and every bit of progress in addressing this injustice has been achieved by unions collectively, through national pay negotiations and public service pay agreements.”
The country’s largest trade union Siptu said it will not be party to a new public service agreement unless the Government moves to end the two-tier arrangement which sees those appointed after 2011 paid less than more longer-serving colleagues.
The Government had previously stated that while a review of this arrangement could take place, there would be no funding to end the two-tier system before the end of 2020 when the current public service pay deal expires.
However, it now seems likely that the Government is prepared to accelerate the ending of this pay system although when and how this will take place remains to be finalised.