Unpaid leave proposal sparks TD fury

THE Government and public sector unions were last night continuing to debate ways to save €1.3bn in the public service pay bill next year and reform the service into the future.

In particular, trade unions were being forced to defend claims that 12 days’ unpaid leave for workers could form the basis of the public service contribution to the Exchequer savings in 2010.

Earlier, both Fianna Fáil TDs and the Department of Finance questioned the value of such a programme.

At a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting, backbench deputies queued up to denounce the unpaid leave initiative, branding it a “sham” and “unworkable”.

One backbencher left the Irish Examiner in no doubt as to his feelings. “Even if you went to bed with a bottle of red wine you wouldn’t wake up with something as mad as that,” he said.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan admitted the level of anger but said the issue was misunderstood. He said TDs had been inundated with calls to their constituency offices from people thinking the unpaid leave initiative was a “done deal” when it was not.

The Department of Finance said whatever savings were agreed would have to be permanent and could not affect service provision.

Therefore, it said the unpaid leave proposal could only work if it didn’t affect services. The department also insisted that, even though unions still refer to the unpaid leave as a “bridging mechanism” that would only be expected to yield savings for one year, it believed the workers would have to take a similar amount of unpaid leave in 2011 and subsequent years.

“[Unpaid leave] could form part of the agreement, but we’ve always been sceptical it will be the be-all and end-all,” a spokesman said.

“Savings have to be real and measurable. If you get appropriate improvements in services, it could actually work as a permanent saving… [But] if services are reduced, it isn’t a permanent saving… [and] it can’t just be a once-off saving.”

Unions have rejected that, saying the discussions on the transformation of the public service would yield all the savings required in 2011.

Privately, Finance Department sources are sceptical about the amount of money the unpaid leave proposal would contribute in 2010.

Even union sources are now conceding that the value might only be €750m. If that is the case, and setting aside the €120m expected to come from the review of pay in the higher echelons of the public service, that would still leave €330m of the €1.3bn to find.

How that deficit would be bridged was still being debated last night, as was the crucial requirement that health sector workers agree to an 8am-8pm core day.


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