Brendan Howlin to begin unwinding legislation on pay cuts

Cabinet agrees to delete key section of emergency legislation underpinning cuts

The first step in unwinding the emergency legislation that underpinned pay cuts across the public service at the height of the financial crisis has been taken by the Government.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin yesterday secured the agreement of his Cabinet colleagues to delete a key section of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009.

The section being abolished gave the Government as an employer the right to cut core pay and adjust working hours in order to secure savings in the overall pay bill.

The other elements of the legislation, including the pay cuts and the pension levy, will continue to remain in force for the present.


In the Dáil earlier this month Mr Howlin signalled his intention of opening discussions with the public sector unions about the modification of pay cuts which formed an essential component of the country’s recovery plan.

He told the Dáil that he would “open the books in the same open way as I did in the negotiations for Haddington Road and come to an orderly and, I hope, fair mechanism for unwinding the emergency provisions that were necessitated by the economic collapse”.

Restoration of cuts

The Government decision yesterday represents the first part of that process but lengthy negotiations with the unions are likely next year on the possible restoration of some of the pay cuts.

In a statement after yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, Mr Howlin said section 2B of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Fempi) Act 2009 would be deleted.

“Section 2B was inserted in to the Fempi 2009 Act by the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2013 as a limited contingency measure in the event no collective agreement was concluded with staff associations and trade unions following the negotiations leading up to the Haddington Road agreement.

“This section would have, should the need have arisen, allowed public service employers to take steps that would impact on non-core pay and working hours of staff in their organisations to effect savings.”

He added that, in the event, the public service unions and associations had signed up to the Haddington Road agreement which had produced a significant dividend to the public finances while, crucially, maintaining industrial peace.

“The removal of section 2B is in recognition that any requirement for this measure has now passed,” he said.

Deficit target

Mr Howlin said that all other provisions provided for under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts 2009-2013 remained in place and formed a continuing necessary component of the fiscal consolidation programme to achieve and maintain the general government deficit target of below 3 per cent of GDP.

As well as the deletion of section 2B Mr Howlin announced that he was going to amend industrial relations legislation to allow civil servants to use the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court to resolve disputes.

Section 23(3) (a) of the Industrial Relations Act 1990 will be amended to provide access for established civil servants to the normal industrial relations machinery of the State, the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court and the soon to be established Workplace Relations Commission.

Currently, civil servants, unlike the majority of workers in the State, avail of a conciliation and arbitration scheme.

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins is a columnist with and former political editor of The Irish Times