As families brace themselves for a raft of new stealth taxes and charges which kick in this week, Mr Howlin said no decision had been taken on cutting special bonuses and perks for public service workers.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner, he defended the Croke Park deal and attacked pay increments in the private sector.
“People are critical of Croke Park but you have to think if there was no Croke Park, where would we be?
“Croke Park has enabled the most substantial body of change to happen in an atmosphere of stability. We didn’t have national strikes.”
The Government is set to review the deal later this year. The review comes amid rising criticism over the €250 million annual payout of increments or bonuses for public workers.
The coalition plans to downsize the number of public service workers by 23,000 and redeploy numbers across services.
Mr Howlin’s reform plan also includes reducing allowances and overtime for public service workers this year. But he shied away from the question of freezing increments.
“Many in the private sector have taken significant cuts but of course not all. There’s many in the private sector who haven’t taken any cut,” he said.
“Increments are not unknown in the private sector as well, a lot of people have increments.
“The best people [in the public service] are not on increments because they’ve actually reached the top of the scale. If you were going to make an adjustment in pay, would you adjust those at the lower grade?”
He said 53% of workers in the civil service with increments are clerical officers, where the position starts on a salary of €22,000.
Increments are commonly added to public salaries in occupations like teaching, nursing or in the gardaí, for workers on lower rates.
These increments include an estimated €22m to be paid to more than 30,000 teachers this year. Increases for teachers will range from €1,000 to €3,615 and are part of the deal between unions and the previous government in return for productivity measures.
The minister added: “If we upset that, I think we should do it on the basis of thinking it through.
“If there is a case to reduce further the pay bill, and there is, I think people rush off on one element of it and we have to look at it in a much more rational way.”
Mr Howlin said more than the expected 9,000 reduction in public service workers could be achieved this year but managing the reduction was difficult.
“I’m sure we could downsize the public service [more] if we wanted chaos immediately, I’d rather avoid that if I could.
“There’s plenty of waste in the public service that we need to [address].”