Public service pay cut option must be on the table - Harney


EITHNE DONNELLANMINISTER FOR Health Mary Harney has said that all options, including public sector pay, have to be on the table when the Government considers plans for reducing expenditure next year.

Ms Harney’s comments came as the country’s largest public sector union, Impact, said that it would begin balloting members shortly for a mandate for strike action in the event of the Government unilaterally introducing reductions in public sector pay.

The general secretary of Impact, Peter McLoone, said yesterday that public servants had already seen their pay reduced on average by 7.5 per cent under the Government’s pension levy last February and that the union was now mobilising members to defend what was left in their wages.

Separately the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu), David Begg, said that he expected that there would be a “strong level of resistance” among public servants to any attempt by the Government to cut their pay.

“I think they have gone as far as they are going to go in terms of the 7 per cent pay cut they have already taken,” he said.

Speaking to journalists yesterday, Ms Harney became the latest member of the Cabinet to signal that pay cuts for the 300,000 people on the State’s payroll were under consideration.

“Well, the Government has to make a determination in relation to these issues and public pay applies not just in the health service but right across the public system,” she said.

“The cost of providing services in Ireland by comparison with other European countries is very high and I think at a time when we have greatly reduced capacity for public expenditure we have to look at everything. Everything has to be on the table.

“I don’t think the citizens would accept a situation where services are cut without the cost of providing those services being examined in the first place,” the Minister said.

On Monday Taoiseach Brian Cowen indicated that the Government would consider targeting its €20 billion public sector pay and pensions bill for cuts in December’s budget.

Mr Cowen’s comments were in response to an ESRI report which identified a 25 per cent gap between public and private sector pay rates.

Mr Begg said that it could be coincidental, but that the ESRI had an “extraordinary knack” of bringing out reports that were unhelpful whenever an engagement between the trade union movement and the Government was in prospect.

Mr McLoone said that the survey produced by the ESRI was “flawed fundamentally”.

He said that it represented a crude comparison and that it did not compare things that were like for like.

Mr McLoone said that if the Government wanted to reduce public expenditure it should engage in a process which would seek to identify the scope for savings or to pinpoint services that the country was going to have to do without.