‘Bilateral talks on pay deal the way forward’

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) has offered to coordinate bilateral talks between the Government and public service trade unions on an agreement to replace the failed Croke Park II proposals.

Ictu general secretary David Begg claimed unions who are not willing to take cuts or changes to their working conditions are “not being realistic”.

He said there will have to be a negotiated settlement to the impasse between Government and unions “if not now, at some stage in the future”.

“All disputes ultimately end,” he said. “There just may be four or five painful steps between now and that ultimate settlement.

“The prudent thing for everybody is to look at their own situation, including the Government and union people, and say ‘well if that is the case, can we not try to avoid an enormous amount of pain for our members’ in the case of the unions and ‘disruption and difficulty and an impairment of our return to recovery’ on the part of the Government.”

The Labour Relations Commission chief, Kieran Mulvey, has just two more days before he is due to report back to Government on whether there is scope for a negotiated agreement on cutting the public service pay bill by €300m this year and by €1bn by 2015.

There was speculation over the weekend he may look for more time and only deliver an interim report.

In the absence of an agreement, the Government could impose pay cuts and other savings measures within a couple of weeks.

“There isn’t a lot of experience around for handling matters of this type. We need to be very careful,” Mr Begg told RTÉ’s This Week programme.

“I think we have to have an understanding on our own side of the fence about what our approach ultimately is if Kieran Mulvey comes back and says that there is a potential for a negotiation. Frankly I think that has to mean a bilateral series of negotiations with individual unions, perhaps coordinated by Ictu.”

He said otherwise “in two or three weeks’ time something happens very quickly which precipitates a dispute and which everybody is into before they know what they are getting into”.

Mr Begg said there were a number of areas where savings could be achieved, for example in relation to the proposed cutbacks to nurses’ weekend overtime premiums.

“As the hospital system is constructed, there is almost an incentive for people to work overtime at present.

“You need to turn that around to create a disincentive to work overtime. The way to do that is through annualised hours arrangements. These are things which have been used in the private sector and they have been used by the prison officers very effectively in the public sector.”

Mr Begg also said it would have been much more damaging to the cohesion within Ictu if public service union leaders had backed Croke Park II in their aggregate Ictu vote while the popular vote had been against it.

He said it was a possibility that Ictu would have lost some unions.


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