Election 2020: Industrial relations challenges await the next government

Doctors, teachers, the Defence Forces and the broader public service all have issues they want resolved

The IMO wants an end to the two-tier pay system under which medical specialists appointed after October 2012 are paid up to €50,000 less than their longer-serving colleagues. Photograph: Getty Images

The IMO wants an end to the two-tier pay system under which medical specialists appointed after October 2012 are paid up to €50,000 less than their longer-serving colleagues. Photograph: Getty Images


The next government administration will face a series of industrial relations challenges in the weeks ahead, including in the key health and education sectors.

Hospital doctors

About 3,500 consultants and non-consultant hospital doctors who are represented by the Irish Medical Organisation voted overwhelmingly for strike action in December over pay and recruitment issues.

The IMO wants an end to the two-tier pay system under which medical specialists appointed after October 2012 are paid up to €50,000 less than their longer-serving colleagues.

It also wants an immediate increase in the number of consultants working in public hospitals.

The Government subsequently offered consultants a new contract worth up to €252,000 per year on condition they work only in public hospitals.

The IMO has deferred its proposed strike action pending negotiations with the government on the new contract. It remains to be seen whether the next government will want to table its own proposals. In the meantime industrial action by thousands of doctors remains a possibility in the months ahead.


Second-level teachers who are members of the ASTI are to ballot for strike action over the lower pay arrangements in place for those recruited after 2011. This ballot is due to be completed by March 20th.

About 19,000 other teachers who were members of the TUI staged a one-day stoppage on the same issue earlier this month, leading to the closure of hundreds of schools. The TUI will now decide on whether there are to be further strikes.

The issue of the two-tier pay system in schools is now likely to be addressed as part of overall talks on a new public service pay agreement.

Defence Forces

Although there are no prospects of industrial action in the Defence Forces, the new government will have to decide on whether to allow the representative bodies for enlisted military personnel to affiliate with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Election 2020


This move is strongly opposed by the military chiefs on the grounds that it could interfere with the chain of command and jeopardise national security. It is also opposed by the association representing officers in the Defence Forces.

Broader Public Service

The current public service pay agreement expires at the end of the year. To allow trade unions to ballot and ratify any new deal in time for the budget next October, negotiations on a new accord will have to be finalised by the early summer.

Reaching a new agreement will not be easy. Trade unions are expected to seek higher-than-inflation increases on the basis that pay rises in the public service are falling behind those in the private sector.

Unions also want productivity concessions agreed during the austerity years, such as additional working hours, to be on the table.

Community employment supervisors

Some 1,200 community employment (CE) supervisors are to stage a 24-hour stoppage over their right to a pension this Friday.

They oversee State-funded community schemes in areas such as childcare , disability services and meals-on-wheels.

Staff in these schemes are considered by the Government to be employees of private companies in the community and voluntary sector and not public servants. As a result they do not have access to the public service pension scheme.

In 2008 the Labour Court recommended that a pension scheme should be put in place for the supervisors, but that never happened.

CE supervisors, who are represented by both Siptu and Fórsa, suspended a planned strike in May of last year following the intervention of Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty, who promised that the pension issue would be addressed.

The Dáil was told last year that the costs involved could be very significant – between €188million and €347million.

Staff in Section 39 organisations

Staff working in what are known as Section 39 organisations are looking at holding a one-day stoppage on Friday, February 21st.

Section 39 bodies provide health and social services on foot of grant aid funding from the HSE or government departments. Staff working in these organisations are not considered to be public service personnel.

Unions argue the pay of staff in Section 39 bodies was reduced during the austerity years alongside that of employees in the direct State sector. However, while public service personnel have seen pay restoration over recent years, this has not been the case in Section 39 organisations.

A deal was reached last year governing pay restoration in an initial group of 50 Section 39 bodies. About 250 other Section 39 bodies were not encompassed by this deal.

The HSE has said it would continue with the implementation of pay restoration in respect of the organisations in the initial group of 50 agencies. It said it would engage with the Workplace Relations Commission about the remainder.

School secretaries

School secretaries want an end to the two-tier system under which some are directly employed by the Department of Education and have public service employment status, while the majority have their pay and conditions determined by school management boards from the grant paid to their schools by the department.

Secretaries employed by the department get higher pay, holiday pay, sick leave and pension rights. Secretaries who are paid out of the school grants are paid “what the school can afford”, unions claim.

The trade union Fórsa said the existing system resulted in most school secretaries earning just €12,500 a year, with irregular, short-term contracts that forced them to sign on during the summer holidays and other school breaks.

School secretaries staged a one-day stoppage in early January. A subsequent work-to-rule was suspended temporarily to allow for talks at the Workplace Relations Commission.