Tough talks ahead on productivity aspect of Garda pay

 

A large sigh of relief issued yesterday morning from Phibsboro Tower, the Garda Representative Association's Dublin head quarters, when the result of the Garda pay ballot emerged.

Until the votes were counted, no one wanted to call the outcome.

The 68 per cent acceptance of the deal proved that opponents of the pay offer, who had been loud in their condemnation of the deal, were outnumbered by the silent majority, who made their feelings known on the ballot papers.

The GRA president, Mr John Healy, said that he would not have been surprised if the vote had been 2-1 against.

Mr Healy speculated that the 31 per cent who voted against were probably those gardai with between 12 and 20 years' service, who would receive 7 per cent, a smaller increase than those on other grades. These people would have to be satisfied with their second bite of the cherry in the phase two pay talks, he said.

Some 1,500 gardai - 31 per cent of those balloted - rejected the last pay deal in 1994. This led to a bitter dispute within the GRA, and years of unrest, before the split was resolved this year.

A larger number has rejected this deal, with 1,998 gardai voting against the 9 per cent offer. However, there are few fears that the association will suffer a repeat of the turmoil.

The GRA came to the table last time with its own set of figures, worked out on the basis of how much ground they said gardai had lost against other public servants. Lumbered with their own demand of 39 per cent, the GRA leaders created another mountain to climb by selling their members the expectation of a 15 per cent offer in round one.

There is relief that gardai voted for 9 per cent rather than hold out for 15 per cent. But this throws the next phase into sharper focus.

It will be up to the Government to say what it wants of gardai this time, according to the GRA's acting general secretary, Mr P.J. Stone. The productivity changes on the table will have to be costed by the GRA so it can come up with a pay figure.

This round will involve a major overhaul of the Garda force to create a more efficient, modern organisation. Dubbed "core productivity issues", the proposed changes in rosters, civilianisation and the use of new computer technology hit raw nerves among serving gardai, who are anxious not to concede too much for too little.

At many meetings organised in the last month gardai were worried that some of the deal had already been done for the 9 per cent, which included a 1.5 per cent down payment on future productivity.

The issue of civilianisation is among one of the most sensitive. Earlier this year the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), one of the least militant Garda bodies, voted unanimously against employing a civilian industrial relations expert.

Some of the angriest arguments at conference were made against involving a civilian in negotiating Garda pay, as delegates insisted only gardai familiar with the unique nature of the job could understand it.

Yesterday's deal could also produce an unprecedented wave of early retirements, with large numbers of gardai waiting for the deal to be done before walking away with an improved pension. Private sector work, especially in the security industry, awaits experienced gardai, as the Garda bodies argued in support of better pay.

Both Mr Healy and Mr Stone warned yesterday that the next phase of pay talks could prove the most difficult. "If they're looking for substantial changes that will bring substantial savings, then there will have to be a substantial increase", Mr Healy said.

In the meantime, both the GRA and the Government have been given a breathing space.

The next round will involve complicated changes in policing, in the context of a climate of public pay restraint, all of which will go to a second national ballot. In that context, it is worth remembering that yesterday's vote took eight months and two bouts of blue 'flu.