Howlin hopeful as Government offers new talks on public-sector pay cuts

The Government has offered to open a second round of talks with unions despite warning the public sector that it would enforce pay cuts.

Howlin hopeful as Government offers new talks on public-sector pay cuts

The Government has offered to open a second round of talks with unions despite warning the public sector that it would enforce pay cuts.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has asked one of the country’s top industrial relations mediators to see if there are grounds for re-run negotiations.

The initiative has been taken after several unions overwhelmingly rejected pay cuts and reforms under Croke Park II.

Mr Howlin said that the Government remained committed to taking €300m off the public sector pay and pensions bill this year, and €1bn by 2015.

He will ask Kieran Mulvey, chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission, to contact union leaders to see if they are willing to reopen negotiations on cost-cutting.

“The Government further agreed to request the CEO of the Labour Relations Commission to make contact with the parties in the coming days to establish whether or not there is a basis for a negotiated agreement to meet these budgetary targets,” the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said in a statement.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he should get an answer from the Labour Relations Commission on a re-run of negotiations within two weeks.

“It’s important that the country and Government stick to our plan here which is working in a sense of moving towards confidence in the Irish economy again,” he said.

“And as the Minister for Finance has pointed out, any flexibility that arises up ahead here should clearly be invested in infrastructure for the public good like schools and primary care centres and public buildings where contractors and people can have the opportunity to go to work and earn a living and have an investment for the future.”

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the Government will invest in the economy if the money is there to work with once targets under the bailout are met.

Earlier, members of an Oireachtas committee walked out in a row over the €300m in savings being included in a debate on Government spending estimates.

Independent TD for Wicklow and East Carlow, Stephen Donnelly, walked out with Mr Fleming and Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald.

“The Government is forcing through the spending estimates for 2013 based on Croke Park II having been accepted. This is an insult to public sector workers who rejected the deal only six days ago,” he said.

Among the unions to vote against the first deal – despite Mr Howlin’s threat of unilateral pay cuts and reforms – were Siptu, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), the Association of Secondary Teachers’ of Ireland (Asti), the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), the Irish Nurses’ and Midwives’ Organisation (INMO) and the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU).

In response, the No2CrokePark2 campaign group called on union leaders not to take up the offer of talks.

Spokesperson Eddie Conlon said: “Entering talks would be a betrayal of all those who voted no and said very clearly that they have had enough of austerity and cuts. ”

Last week, the INTO said it would ballot its members for strike action in case the Government pushed through with the threats to make unilateral cuts to pay and changes to working regimes following the rejection of Croke Park II.

Sean Fleming, Fianna Fáil spokesman on public expenditure and reform, accused the Government of ignoring the public servants unions' ballots.

“For this initiative to have any prospect of success, I believe that the Government needs to demonstrate that it is proceeding in good faith and that it respects the decision of the public service in rejecting the original deal,” he said.

He added: “It appears to be simply the latest chapter in the story of divide and conquer, bribery and threat which has characterised the Government’s approach to this process to date.”

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