Sides remain divided over public service agreement

Government insisting on greater pension contributions from most in public service

Irish Nurses’ and Midwives’ Organisation general secretary Liam Doran: “The Government is going to have to use a wider lens and more imagination.” Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Irish Nurses’ and Midwives’ Organisation general secretary Liam Doran: “The Government is going to have to use a wider lens and more imagination.” Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Significant divisions remained last night between the Government and staff representatives on a new public-service agreement.

While no proposals on pay improvements had been formally tabled up to last night, it is understood the Government was insisting on greater pension contributions from most public-service employees under a new three-tiered structure.

The Government is expected to agree to eliminate the existing public-service pension levy which was originally put in place as an emergency measure in 2009 following the economic crash and which currently realises more than €700 million each year for the exchequer.

Sources said the Government had indicated that it wanted to generate €550 million from the proposed new permanent higher pension contributions.

It is understood that under Government proposal about 23,000 staff with faster-accruing pensions such as gardaí, prison officers and firefighters would effectively pay the same as at present under the pension levy.

The vast bulk of public-service staff – those appointed prior to 2013 and who are covered by the standard superannuation scheme – would also have to pay more, although no details had emerged about the proposed scale of the contributions envisaged or the income threshold above which the additional contributions would take effect.

Staff appointed since 2013 and who are covered by a less generous, career-average pension scheme would benefit most.

Trade unions and organisations representing gardaí, prison officers and firefighters are understood to have strongly opposed any move by the Government to make groups with faster-accruing pensions pay more.

‘Back-loading’

Any new pay deal agreed is expected to be “back-loaded”, with the bulk of any increases coming towards the end of what would probable be a three-year deal.

Government representatives again told trade unions yesterday that the scope for increases in 2018 was very limited. It has forecast that the fiscal space for next year will be about €200 million.

Any increases could be delayed until later in 2018, according to some sources.

The Government up to last night was also insisting on a relaxation of existing restrictions on outsourcing of public services. Unions have argued this is a “red-line” issue for them and that there will be no deal agreed if the Government sticks to its current position.

Sources said original Government proposals to increase the scope of Saturday working could be diluted with a review established to examine this issue.

The Government is also understood to have insisted that the requirement on staff to work additional unpaid hours will remain.

Mid-ranking gardaí said they would “absolutely resist” any move make them pay more for their faster-accruing pensions.

Antoinette Cunningham of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors said such a move would not be fair. She said it was Government policy that gardaí had to retire and received their pensions earlier than other groups.

Nurses argued that the Government would have to move beyond the level of funding it said it had available next year.

The general secretary of the Irish Nurses’ and Midwives’ Organisation, Liam Doran, said “additional monies will have to be found to address the issue that is hampering the growth of our public health service, the issue of pay restoration for all public servants”.

“The Government is going to have to use a wider lens and more imagination,” he added.

Asked about the likelihood of a deal being reached in the coming days, Bernard Harbor of the Impact trade union said: “We really need to see what money is available for any deal before I can really answer that question. That’s what we need to get down to if not today, then certainly tomorrow. Impact has said throughout this process that we think an agreement can be reached.”