State employees could be up to €1,000 better off next year on successful conclusion of a deal, with a similar increase expected in 2017 which may particularly favour the low paid.
For the Government, a deal would yield further guarantees around productivity and reform which have already been seen as significant in the public service over the course of the Haddington Road and Croke Park agreements.
Unions had signalled in advance of these talks that they wanted a flat rate increase for the 290,000 public servants as that would benefit staff “from the bottom up”. The best method of achieving this was seen as an easing of the pension levy, which would affect the lower paid most. The levy averages out at about 7% per employee.
A cut in the levy is also thought to be more attractive to the Government — while the worker would benefit, there would be no actual increase in the pay bill.
It is believed that a deal on cutting the levy was close last night.
Furthermore it emerged that low-paid workers could receive a pay increase on top of that as reports suggested public service pensioners would also be in line for a boost to their finances.
Ahead of the negotiations on the pay element of the deal, which began yesterday morning, the sides had already reached initial agreement on the text of a number of non-pay-related issues.
As well as the actual machinery of the agreement, oversight arrangements, dispute resolution, and outsourcing protections were all hammered out.
It is believed the 16-day process has yielded agreement that, if the whole deal is passed, Haddington Road and the flexibilities and productivity it entails would be extended by 24 months.
Ahead of the talks, ministers made it clear that they saw the negotiations as a chance to get assurances from unions regarding industrial relations mechanisms after recent disputes in parts of the public sector.
It is understood the formula on the table last night included an agreement by unions to enter binding arbitration, thereby going some way to alleviating the threat of industrial action in the event of any disputes over the lifetime of a deal.
A deal spread over at least two years would reflect the insistence by Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin that there would be an “orderly” unwinding of the emergency legislation which has seen public servants’ pay cut by an average of 14% between the pension levy and pay cuts during the height of the recession. He had also insisted ahead of the talks that existing pay ceilings for top-ranking public servants would be retained.
If an agreement emerges from these talks, it will need to be brought back to the union executives before being put to a ballot of all the unions’ memberships. While many of the unions could spend most of June balloting, that will create a tight timeframe for second-level teaching bodies as many of their members finish up for the summer.
At the time of going to press, sources close to the negotiations were predicting the talks would likely last through the night.