Strikers called on to halt action, restart negotiations


AN appeal to the civil servants who staged a half day strike yesterday to return to negotiations came from the Minister of State, Mr Hugh Coveney.

Responding to special notice questions from Opposition deputies he said the strikers' action was out of proportion. He urged them to use the conciliation and arbitration service which had discussed the dispute last week and had further discussions planned for next week.

The Government's decision to restrict recruitment was aimed at putting a brake on increasing numbers in the Civil Service which had risen by 550 a year in recent years. If no action was taken they would increase by a further 1,500 this year.

The Fianna Fail spokesman on finance, Mr Charlie McCreevy, asked how the Government could defend its stance in view of decisions which allowed Democratic Left ministers to take on an extra 21 advisers at a cost of £1,500 a day.

Ms Mary O'Rourke, Fianna Fail deputy leader, said the Government action targeted the lowest ranks. "That sits uneasily with its talk of reform of the public service," she said.

Mr Michael McDowell, Progressive Democrats spokesman on finance, said the Government should be concentrating on post tax pay rather than operating a "stop go" policy on employment.

In the last four years, public service pay increased by 36 per cent compared with inflation of 10 per cent. During that period the pay of a departmental secretary increased by 42 per cent compared with just 19 per cent for clerical assistants and 18 per cent in the average industrial wage.

Mr Coveney said departmental secretaries had been instructed to apply the cuts throughout the service and to avoid the burden falling on lower grades. There might be other ways of reducing the pay bill but the brake imposed by the Government had proved effective in the past.