Unions crank up pressure on public service pay

Analysis: Unions want immediate progress on pay rates for staff recruited after 2011

Teachers are among those public servants demanding a pay disparity be dealt immediately. Pictured at the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation annual conference earlier this month are Graham Fitzpatrick, Ed Platt, John Paul Phelan and Michael Weed, who are calling for equal pay for all teachers. Photograph: Moya Nolan.

Teachers are among those public servants demanding a pay disparity be dealt immediately. Pictured at the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation annual conference earlier this month are Graham Fitzpatrick, Ed Platt, John Paul Phelan and Michael Weed, who are calling for equal pay for all teachers. Photograph: Moya Nolan.

 

A year ago the Government believed the issue of public service pay was settled until the end of 2020.

An €850 million deal was to provide State employees with increases of between 6.2 and 7.4 per cent over three years.

That was then.

Now the Government is facing renewed pay pressures on multiple fronts.

Trade unions want pay improvements for staff recruited after 2011, who currently are paid less than colleagues who are longer in service, brought forward to next year.

The Government wanted to hold off on tackling this issue until the beginning of 2021.

Talks between the Government and trade unions on this controversial two-tier pay system are to commence next Friday.

In addition, within the next few weeks the Public Service Pay Commission is expected to produce a report examining whether there are recruitment and retentions difficulties in different parts of the public service.

The first report will deal with the health service with doctors and nurses arguing strongly that better pay available overseas is encouraging staff to take up posts abroad, leaving significant vacancies in hospitals across the country.

Unfilled posts

Medical organisations, for example, claim 400 full-time consultant positions are unfilled.

Trade unions will want any acknowledgement by the Public Service Pay Commission that recruitment and retention pressures exist to lead to immediate talks on pay rises.

The Public Service Pay Commission is also due to report on recruitment and retention difficulties in the defence forces later in the year.

The Irish Times reported earlier this month that the Department of Defence is to recommend that a loyalty bonus - which was previously set at up to €22,000 - should be re-introduced to address a shortage of military pilots.

This would be the first public indication that the Government acknowledges additional pay is needed to encourage the retention of key personnel in some parts of the public service.

The Fórsa trade union conference this week also heard that the State was having difficulties in securing other staff such as solicitors, meteorologists, radio officers, technical agricultural officers, valuers, Oireachtas researchers, translation staff, special education needs organisers and cleaners due to better pay being available elsewhere.

It called for Civil Service managers to be given greater pay flexibility in their attempts to recruit in areas where staff are scarce.

Trade unions also want allowances for staff which were cut following the economic crash to be increased in line with pay rises under the current deal rather than in October 2020 as currently proposed.

GPs

The Government is also facing into talks with general practitioners on a new contract in which they will want a reversal of significant cuts which they experienced over recent years.

GPs are not public service staff.

However, they provide key public services under contract which are critical to the success of the Government’s overall healthcare reforms.

There are also likely to be strong calls by public service staff for the abolition of the additional, unpaid working hours, introduced after the economic crash. The Government estimates this change alone could cost over €600 million.

The most immediate challenge for the Government, both politically and from the trade unions, will be in relation to pay for those recruited since January 2011.

There has been a vociferous campaign in recent times - led largely by teachers - to have this two-tier pay system addressed.

However, this is by no means a matter that only affects the education sector.

Fianna Fáil is already calling for the Government to begin to roll-back the two-tier system in the Budget in October.

Trade unions will demand the same when the talks start next Friday.

A recent report by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform maintained that nearly 60,000 staff across the public service - or nearly 20 per cent of the total - now work on lower pay arrangements than their colleagues recruited prior to January 2011.

However, if all the demands descending on the Government to deal with recruitment and retention, the provision of new services, a reversal of cuts to allowances etc are to be addressed, the cost to the public service pay bill would be far, far higher.