Majority of public sector will accept pay pause

A LARGE percentage of public sector workers will accept an almost year-long pay pause in a new national wage agreement as long as they are adequately compensated when the freeze ends.

A split is emerging in how public servants are reacting to a pay pause. What was proposed before the collapse of talks last month was an 11-month pay freeze for the public sector followed by two 2.5% increases. The Civil, Public and Services Union said in recent days 11 months was out of the question and it would be seeking flat-rate rather than percentage increases for lower-paid staff.

However, it appears the country’s largest public and services trade union, IMPACT, with 55,000 members, is unlikely to walk away from the talks if 11 months is proposed again. There are signals their members acknowledge the economic realities that face the country and that they must brace themselves for a lean year in 2009.

However, their acquiescence on a pay pause is conditional on them being given the same percentage increases as the private sector during the duration of any deal.

Public sector unions will still be joining their private sector colleagues in demanding an increase on the 5% proposed by employers’ body IBEC for the duration of the deal and they will also look to have the length of the deal to be scaled back from the 21 months suggested by employers. After three days of employer and employee representatives setting out their stall on other issues, pay will take centre stage in the social partnership talks today.

Low pay is still an issue for all sides. The unions, particularly in the private sector, have been very vocal on the need for flat rate increases for those earning less than the minimum wage. That has been vigorously denied by IBEC. However, on the issue of a pay pause and a need to keep the burden on the public finances down, the Government will be glad that a number of public sector workers are accepting of the need for restraint. Meanwhile, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has claimed a “prompt and decisive” government intervention in the current partnership talks could help restore faith in the EU.

ICTU general secretary David Begg, speaking after the publication of research into the Lisbon treaty result, which highlighted protection of workers’ rights as a main area of voter concern, said the Government had an ideal opportunity to address this problem by agreeing new legislation on collective bargaining and union recognition. “The research proves what congress has stated all along — the protection of workers’ rights in an enlarged Europe is a key issue for voters in Ireland. That needs to be addressed.

“The current talks process provides the Government with the perfect opportunity to address this issue. The Charter of Fundamental Rights that was attached to the Lisbon treaty enshrines the right to collective bargaining – now is the time to enshrine this provision in Irish law,” said Mr Begg.

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