Cabinet given 2 weeks to agree to pay talks

Government must begin new public sector pay negotiations by January or face a “free for all” of industrial action and strikes, unions have warned.

Public sector unions have given the Government two weeks to agree to a new round of talks before individual sectors begin to peel away from the Lansdowne Raod Agreement with ballots, walk-outs and protests.

But speaking to the Irish Examiner, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe remained adamant that a collective agreement is the only logical way of proceeding.

Unions see a January start date for renegotiations as essential to contain the growing frustration of public sector workers who were infuriated by the Labour Court recommendation for gardaí.

The deal — yet to be accepted by gardaí who are being balloted — will see members of the force earn around €3,000 more from January 1.

Nurses, teachers and other public servants who have remained inside Lansdowne Road feel the Labour Court deal gives more to gardaí, who were not signed up to the agreement.

Mr Donohoe said: “I have said the Labour Court decision has consequences for public sector pay, but a collective process which is fair to everybody is the only way to proceed. Doing sector by sector deals would be massively expensive for our country.”

He is also adamant that his newly established Public Service Pay Commission be given adequate time to complete its work, but it is likely its original deadline of next summer will be brought forward.

Sources throughout Government have said Mr Donohoe was not best pleased by the Labour Court decision given its implications for public sector pay, and he had sought to avoid the shape of the final deal. However, last night Mr Donohoe accepted the decision and is working to deal with its consequences.

The Lansdowne Road Agreement, which began the process of pay restoration for those in the public sector, is not due to be revisited until the third quarter of 2017.

Resolve in Government to hold the line has hardened in recent days as Mr Donohoe was adamant not to “bend the knee” to Siptu’s Jack O’Connor.

Mr O’Connor had laid down the ultimatum to ballot the union’s 60,000 public service members for industrial action if the Government did not announce new national pay talks ahead of a meeting of Siptu’s executive today.

“Paschal was determined to avoid being dictated to by Jack O’Connor. To do so would have been to fatally undermine the Government’s credibility. You can’t govern like that. We as the Government have to be able to set our own business,” said one Cabinet minister last night.

While the Government continue to defend the time-frame of the deal there is a growing realisation that they will now have to bring forward this date to the beginning of the year.

After meeting in Belfast Belfast, the Public Services Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions stressed the importance of a collective approach to public service pay issues.

But members put it up to the Government to give “clarity about the process”.

They said they must provide a timetable for talks on accelerated pay restoration before their next meeting in two weeks.

They also warned Mr Donohoe that the Lansdowne Road Agreement “will be undermined” unless the acceleration of pay “happens quickly”.

The joint statement from unions after the meeting also said they believe “the wider implications of the Garda Labour Court recommendations can and should be dealt with in negotiations early next year”.

Public sector union sources said if a commitment around talks is not received in the coming weeks there would be a “free for all” in terms of industrial action in the new year.

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