The decision by the members of the country’s biggest trade union, Siptu, to vote in favour of the proposed new public sector pay deal by a large majority will come as a huge relief to the Government.
The result of the ballot on the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 means that the deal is now likely to be endorsed by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu). The deal is a crucial part of the budgetary strategy being followed by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and its acceptance by the trade union movement is critical to the health of the public finances in the coming years.
Each union carries a proportionate vote in Ictu's public service committee, based on its membership size. The committee will meet next month to vote on whether or not to ratify the new pay agreement. The sizeable backing for the deal by a big majority of Siptu's 70,000 public service members comes on top of its endorsement by a majority of members of the country's second biggest union, Impact. While the deal has been rejected by a massive majority of the members of the Irish National Teacher's Organisation (INTO) it is already close to having the support of a majority of Ictu members. Some unions that have yet to vote on the deal include the Irish Medical Organisation, which represents medical practitioners in the health service, and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.
Even if some of the unions yet to vote take the same line as the INTO it appears the pay deal has generated enough support for acceptance by a majority of public servants.
Announcing the agreement back in June the Minister said it meant the pay reductions introduced to deal with the financial crisis of the 2008 to 2010 period would be fully restored to public servants earning less than €70,000 by 2020.
It means that lower paid public servants will receive an increase of almost 7.5 per cent over the next three years with those on higher incomes receiving just over 6 per cent.
The other key aspect of the agreement is that most public servants are being asked to contribute more towards their pensions on a permanent basis, with the pension levy introduced during the crisis remaining in a graduated form. The total cost of the three-year deal is in the region of €877 million.
Industrial peace has been one of the key factors in the growth in the Irish economy over the past three decades. For this the trade union movement deserves huge credit, especially for the responsible way it dealt with the cuts required by the economic crisis.
While those cuts have not been fully restored the agreement is a fair and affordable attempt to bring the majority of public servants back to the pay levels they had before the crisis struck.