‘Significant gap’ in public pay to be bridged, warn union leaders, as talks set to resume

Government says it is willing to improve its pay offer for public sector workers, but increases would not match record levels of inflation

The Government will have to bridge a “significant gap” with any improved offer during negotiations on public pay, union leaders have warned.

Talks are set to resume before the budget on a new offer for hundreds of thousands of public sector workers after they collapsed in June — but are playing out against a backdrop of brittle relations and the threat of widespread strike action in the autumn.

Amid signals from the Government that it is willing to increase its offer, Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan told The Irish Times that there was a “sizeable gap” when talks collapsed earlier this summer, and he said while the unions were willing to show flexibility, “the problem is the position on the Government side is far from clear”.

“There is a significant gap and it will require more than a marginal improvement,” Mr Callinan said. Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath told the Sunday Independent that the Government was “prepared to make a move” but that pay increases wouldn’t be able to match record levels of inflation and that the Government “will require the public sector unions to demonstrate flexibility as well”.

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While the summer holiday season has lessened pressure on talks temporarily, balloting of public sector unions is still under way. Mr Callinan said he expects “most if not all affiliated unions to start balloting in the week commencing August 29th and conduct them in a timely fashion”.

Union leadership rejected a Government offer of a 5 per cent pay increase over two years in June, on the basis that it fell “far short” of inflation. The Government countered that the offer came on top of 2 per cent pay increases due under existing agreements, amounting to a 7 per cent increase overall. Mr Callinan said if the Government “is now saying they’re prepared to improve we will obviously engage with that”, but warned that even wage increases that matched the rate of inflation would leave workers worse off — a level which the Government has shown no willingness to stretch to.

The unions are being urged by the Coalition to consider the offer in the context of putative cost-of-living measures planned for budget day next month; but, in the absence of firm details, workers’ representatives groups are now asking that pay issues they consider outstanding relating to this year and last be addressed before moving on to future pay issues.

Any deal on public pay would diminish the Government’s unallocated spending power in next month’s budget by about 25 per cent, Mr McGrath told an Oireachtas committee last month. About €2.7 billion is available for unallocated measures in 2023.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times