Unions and Government on collision course over issue of public sector hours

Unions and Government face a collision course in upcoming negotiations over working hours, writes Elaine Loughlin.

While the restoration of pay will be a priority for public sector workers, many employees say getting back hours is equally important and will be a “major issue” in the renegotiation of the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

It comes after Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Paschal Donohoe laid down a marker, making it clear the additional hours secured in the Haddington Road Agreement “remain critical to enabling us to meet increased demand in frontline service areas and to improve services to the public generally”.

Under Haddington Road most public sector workers saw working hours increase by an average two hours and 15 minutes per week.

Tom Geraghty of the The Public Service Executive Union said members are “very agitated” about this and never viewed these hours as permanent.

“It comes up at every meeting we go to. It’s expressed in terms of when are we getting our time back, not if.”

He said “it’s not that it’s either or” on the issue of pay and working hours, as members now want a return to pay levels and to their original working hours.

Other unions said it would “feature strongly” when renegotiations on pay and conditions begin. These talks are likely to be in May, after the Pay Commission publishes its recommendations.

Impact’s Bernard Harbor said: “We accept the point that any deal must be sustainable, and that there are competing demands on the public purse. Nevertheless, working time will be on our agenda when we enter talks in a couple of months.”

However one union representative admitted that Government is “unlikely” to be willing to concede a lot in this area.

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