However, union representatives have also come out strongly against providing “special deals” for any sectors that may be struggling to recruit or retain staff.
Talks between the Government and public sector unions around a successor to the Lansdowne Road Agreement are due to begin shortly with the unwinding of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (FEMPI) Act. Contributions to pensions, recruitment, and retention all up for discussion.
While a date for talks has yet to be decided, the issue of public sector pay and conditions will be raised by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe at Cabinet on Tuesday.
Mr Donohoe has already stated that negotiations will begin before the end of the month. However, unions will be anxious to have a deal in place by the beginning of June to allow teachers to ballot before they take their summer break.
Nurses — who have been vocal about staffing shortages in the health sector — have already called for 12% wage increase on top of any wider restoration of pay agreed during the upcoming discussions.
However, speaking at the Impact Local Government Division conference, the union’s national secretary, Peter Nolan, warned against any special agreement for specific groups, and said workers would not vote for an outcome that only “gives with one hand and takes away with another”.
Mr Nolan warned that an approach favouring certain groups over others would repeat the 2016 situation, in which gardaí were awarded a €50m package that he claimed exceeded the benefits agreed upon under the Lansdowne Road deal.
“Worse, we could be back to a spiral of uncontrolled, leap-frogging pay claims, with accompanying industrial action,” said Mr Nolan. “That is not sustainable for those who use and deliver our public services, or those who pay for them.”
While the report of the Public Sector Pay Commission, published this week, argued in favour of the unwinding of FEMPI, it did not suggest a time-frame for this.
Writing in the Irish Examiner, Mr Howlin says the State should “reward” those who work in the public service with a decent wage and believes there is now a “moral duty” to restore public sector pay.
“I don’t regard the restoration of pay levels to those pertaining a decade ago as an extravagant demand,” he said. “The truth is that, for some grades, there is still some way to go to make a living wage a reality for all.”
While those representing workers will be eager to accelerate the restoration of pay, the Government has warned that there is still a need to be prudent with public finances. Indeed, senior union sources close to the talks have conceded that 2018 will be a difficult year and have said a “creative” solution will have to be found when it comes to any restoration of pay next year.
However, delegates at the Impact conference in Donegal yesterday emphasised the need for a speedy unwinding of FEMPI.