Public pay talks: Increases in line with inflation remain key priority for unions

It is unacceptable that living standards for workers fell when Government revenue was ‘buoyant’, union representative says

Pay increases substantial enough to compensate their members for the high levels of inflation experienced over the past couple of years remain a key target for the union side as talks on a new public sector agreement get under way in Dublin on Monday afternoon.

The scale and shape of any new deal could be a little clearer after today’s opening session to the talks at the Workplace Relations Commission which has been put back from 2pm to 3.30pm because of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions organised lunchtime demonstration at the GPO.

An important issue to clarify early on in the process will be the Government’s position on the union’s call to have remaining elements of emergency financial legislation repealed so as to restore what that side believe would be more normal industrial relations across the public sector, said Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan.

“I think today will be about the WRC listening to the positions of both sides and probably then looking to see how the talks should best be organised in the sense of what are the issues that about be spoken about and in what sequence,” says Mr Callinan who, as chair of Ictu’s Public Services Committee will lead a union side delegation that also includes Siptu’s John King, Phil Ní Sheaghdha of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and John Boyle of the Irish National Teachers Organisation..


“The Minister (Paschal Donohoe) has said he is prepared to engage on the issue around the emergency legislation. I think probably the first thing that needs to be established is whether or not that can be resolved or not because we’ve been very clear: If the current backdrop continues to industrial relations in the public service then we’re solely focused on a cost of living short term deal.

“If, on the other hand, we make progress on the legislation then it opens up the question as to whether a longer duration is possible, or desirable, and what the views of the parties are in that.”

On the issue of pay, he said “I’m already on the record as saying that I don’t believe it’s acceptable that living standards for workers would have fallen during a period in which we had buoyant Government revenues and massive company profits. Okay, there are always exceptions but, in general, the economy has been performing extraordinarily well and I think that that needs to be reflected in the outcome, not just here for public servants, but for workers across the economy.”

He said that putting a figure on a claim was not a simple matter of the difference between what the current pay deal, Building Momentum, delivered over its three years and inflation, which ran substantially higher, as the Government has taken measures in recent Budgets to help people cope with the cost of living increases.

The energy credits were temporary, he said however, while the (union supported) Nevin Economic Research Institute has put the benefit of recent tax changes at “between 1 and 2 per cent for workers with lower paid workers doing less well”.

The remaining gap from the past couple of years, he suggested, is significant and inflation is projected come in at more than 3 per cent in 2024.

A deal of longer duration would, he said, “allow more time to try and address these things,” and perhaps give more scope for “creative thinking’ but may simply not be possible, he said.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times