Junior doctors to be balloted for strike action

The pressure to meet mounting public sector pay demands stepped up a gear yesterday as junior doctors confirmed they will ballot for strike action.

Talks between the Government and junior doctors have broken down over demands for the restoration of a €3,000 “living-out allowance”.

There is now a prospect of a strike by non-consultant hospital doctors in a matter of weeks, after the Irish Medical Organisation said it would ballot members.

The strike warning comes as the worsening pay dispute with unions will be discussed by Cabinet today.

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe will reiterate to colleagues that, despite ongoing pay demands, “the same amount of money is still there”, said a government source.

A memo from the minister is expected to set out the broad terms of the Government’s commitments to public sector pay. It is also understood that the Department of Justice is now set to take on most of the costs of the €40m pay deal offered to gardaí — if members of the force accept it.

The result of that garda ballot is not expected until December. The delay is likely to give the Government breathing space in its approach with union leaders, as it cannot say for certain yet whether those pay rises will have to be covered and therefore address calls for equal treatment by other public workers.

Mr Donohoe’s officials will today meet senior union leaders from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ public services committee.

Union sources last night said they had been hoping this week that some sort of agenda would be set out for talks over a new pay agreement, to replace the Lansdowne Road Agreement. But government sources, despite weekend reports, are not expecting any significant changes.

The memo will refer to the need to employ an extra 8,000 to 9,000 extra public sector workers a year until 2021 due to demographic pressures.

At the weekend, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said there would obviously be a successor for the Lansdowne Road Agreement but that spending, including €290m for public pay increases, was set in stone for next year.

Siptu president Jack O’Connor has given the Government until Thursday to set out a new pay deal talks process or his union’s members will consider balloting on strike action.

A decision now by junior doctors to possibly ballot for strike action will add to the mounting pressure in the public pay dispute.

The IMO said the Department of Health had informed its officials yesterday that talks had stopped as the issue would now be handled by the new public sector pay commission, which started up last week.

The break-up of the talks was an effective breach of a High Court ruling in October, argued the IMO.

IMO president Dr John Duddy said: “No doctor wants to strike and indeed it would be with great reluctance that we would embark on such an action but in the face of a Government that behaves in such a manner we will have no choice.

“We are in an era of growing waiting lists, insufficient beds and too few consultants, yet the policy of this minister is to make sure that we actively encourage our highly trained doctors to leave Ireland and work abroad.”

A series of union figures yesterday told the Irish Examiner that other ways could be found to accelerate the public pay measures, so that Lansdowne Road could be replaced more quickly.

This could include reducing promised tax cuts, Vat breaks for the tourism sector, or not pursuing pledged capital gains tax relief.

Business groups, though, and employers argue there is no justification for pay increases for public sector workers.

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