Public Service Pay Commission must not be staffed by ‘usual suspects’

The country’s largest public sector union has warned that the newly-announced Public Service Pay Commission (PSPC) will quickly become “debased” in the eyes of the State’s employees if it is staffed by “the usual suspects”.

In a blog on the Impact trade union’s website, its head of communications, Bernard Harbor, said membership of the commission needs to be balanced.

“It’s bound to involve academics, including economists,” he wrote. “But, please, not too many. And not with the predilection for parsimony now so common to the dismal science. Let’s also hope that the Public Appointments Service which will make recommendations about who should be on the Commission understands that people with a union background have a contribution to make, and attracts some genuine experts who support quality public services and fair pay. Because a body packed with the usual suspects will quickly become debased in the eyes of public employees and others.”

Mr Harbor said assurances that pay will continue to be set through direct negotiations between unions and public service management meant that the commission’s role will essentially be an advisory one. But he added that the ability of advisory bodies to determine public policy varies a lot, and the degree of PSPC influence over pay will rest largely on whether it’s perceived to be both expert and fair.

He also said he could think of commentators who would rush to link the initiative to benchmarking, “even though we’ve been through peak boom, deep bust, two changes of Government, and a massive downward adjustment of public service pay and pensions since that unloved process was put to the sword”.

“It’s believed that the minister wants the Commission’s evidence to be published along with its findings,” Mr Harbor told union members. “This is the right approach, which should help avoid some of the criticism that benchmarking attracted, although the job of getting private sector employers and consultants to share their data with all comers — including their competitors here and abroad — should not be underestimated.”

“In any case, the establishment of the Commission will likely mean that public service pay... will be at the centre of public and political debate for a good while yet.”

The creation of the commission will follow a public consultation and the finalisation of its terms of reference. It is expected it will start work later this year.

According to Impact, the commission will likely compare pay rates for specific public service grades and occupations with private sector trends in the context of recruitment and retention difficulties. It will also be able to compare the pay of Irish public servants and their equivalent grades in other countries.

“However, such comparisons will have to “have due regard” to the cost of living in each jurisdiction,” the union said.


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