O’Keeffe: Unions should return to talks next year

DESPITE the collapse of the talks with unions to secure €1.3 billion in public service pay savings, Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe is optimistic that unions will return to discussions on public service reform next year.

Although more than 300,000 public servants face pay cuts looming in tomorrow’s budget, the minister said unions had agreed in the last few weeks how they and the Government need to negotiate into the future.

“Nothing has changed, they know we’re going to have to make further savings next year.

“They know we can’t agree the mechanism by which we’re going to achieve it this year and that the Government will have to take a decision in relation to pay,” he said.

“But the fundamentals of a framework are there for us to negotiate into 2011. The unions put a lot of principles on the table that I think will form the basis of good negotiation into the future,” Mr O’Keeffe said.

The minister said he was impressed with the deal which had almost been agreed by teacher unions, which would have provided an extra 60,000 hours of service a week which could have saved tens of millions of euro on supervision and substitution costs.

Mr O’Keeffe was also confident yesterday that the budget will be passed, citing the commitment at last week’s Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting to take the right decisions in the interest of the country.

“The backbenchers know exactly what has to be done and I’d be extremely surprised if any of them demurred from what will be tough decisions on Wednesday,” he said.

Mr O’Keeffe said the Government is fully aware of the impact the cuts in public service pay and social welfare will have on people’s lives.

“But when you look at the social welfare bill of €21.5 billion and our total take in tax is €26 billion this year, anybody looking at that will say something has to happen in social welfare. Whether we like it or not, we’re going to have to impact on it,” he said.


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