Different hopes for talks on public pay deal

When the negotiators enter talks on a new public service pay deal on Monday, the unions and management will clearly have very different aspirations for what the outcome will be a fortnight later, writes Stephen Rogers.

The Government will want to restrict the severity of the hit to the State’s bank balance, while the unions will be anxious to get the maximum compensation possible for the sacrifices their members made.

However, what is becoming increasingly clear, is there is also a significant difference in expectations within the union side.

Most particularly, the health unions are becoming increasingly adamant that their members should be given special treatment due to, what they see as, problems with recruitment/retention of staff in the sector. They could argue a precedent has been set by the special €50m deal for gardaí.

However other unions, including one of the largest in the public service, Impact, have warned they would be unlikely to ballot on any arrangement where others got more-than their members, never mind their own members voting to accept it.

“Expect to hear more of our mantra: ‘We all went in to FEMPI (Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts) together, and we’ll all come out together too’,” Impact wrote on a members’ blog which it intends to update regularly during the talks process.

The likelihood is that the unions will be given short shrift over the restoration of the 15 million additional public service working hours which were introduced under the Haddington Road agreement.

Where there is room to manoeuvre is on the unwinding of the FEMPI legislation.

Unions want the emergency legislation to be done away with as quickly as possible. However, they acknowledge that any deal will have to be sustainable in terms of the public finances, the talks will kick off with a Department of Finance presentation on the expected exchequer position over the next two or three years.

Nonetheless, as the Public Service Pay Commission says, the fall in public service earnings from 2008-2014 has left workers on average 8% worse off — unions will expect this deal to reverse that significantly.

Where the unions will have to attempt damage limitation is with pensions. The Government wants an increase in employee pension contributions as the pension levy is phased out. Union sources have said they envisage a three-tier system of pension contributions with the likes of gardaí, judges and government ministers — who are all on fast accrual schemes — to pay the highest rates.

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