With just 24 hours to go before Labour Relations Commission chief Kieran Mulvey is required to report back to Cabinet on the potential for a new public service pay deal, it appears increasingly likely any solution will have to come from a collection of agreements hammered out with individual unions.
The latest large union to meet with Mr Mulvey, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, reiterated to him that, while nurses were prepared to engage in a reform programme yielding payroll savings, “this must protect all existing pay arrangements and conditions of employment”.
The LRC told the union that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform remained intent on accruing savings, was still considering primary legislation to allow for that, and was also considering circular letters from government to each department to action this payroll saving.
The nursing union has been working with the Irish Medical Organisation to frame a “significant change and transformation programme for the health service” which it says is part of their alternative strategy to pay cuts.
Over the weekend Ictu general secretary David Begg suggested that “a bilateral series of talks with individual unions, perhaps co-ordinated by Ictu” had to be the way forward if Mr Mulvey concludes a deal could potentially be brokered.
The LRC’s Croke Park II proposals were rejected by workers, not just because of the size of the burden it placed on them individually but also because they considered that others were not equally encumbered.
Therefore, individual deals hammered out with unions would have to be seen to be matched in other sectors to avoid the situation “drifting towards a monumentally serious conflict” as warned by Siptu president Jack O’Connor yesterday.
Of course, there remains the argument consistently proffered by Mr O’Connor and others that the €1bn in cuts to the public service paybill by 2015 is not necessary.
“If they [Government] change the one-sided austerity strategy from Budget 2014 on — which they must do because it is the only way that they can achieve the 3% deficit target — then there is a proportionate potential for some alleviation of the €1bn and that could provide the way for the negotiation of an imaginative agreement which would provide for better terms for 2014 and 2015,” he told RTÉ Radio yesterday morning.
All the while, deadline of Jul 1 for starting to make the €300m in savings for 2013 draws closer. It is likely any negotiated solutions would need to be completed by early June, otherwise the Government would opt to press ahead with legislation to impose pay cuts.
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