Elaine Loughlin, Bernard Harbour and Eddie Molly examine and discuss recent public sector pay deals
Securing a fresh deal paramount to all at table but discontent mounts amongst workers
After three collective deals, government and the public sector unions are well aware of the motto, strength in unity.
Despite inflicting pay cuts on a haemorrhaging staff count and asking public sector employees to work longer and do more with less, people stayed at their desks, on wards, in classrooms and on the beat.
And so the economic downturn passed with very little downing of tools. This was largely done to the series of collective agreements between the Government and unions.
However, in recent weeks, the State has gone through a shaky time and the threat from public sector workers continues to loom.
Unrest has bled through to actions and threats from teachers, gardaí, nurses, junior doctors and other public servants.
To avoid all-out protests, strikes and utter chaos Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe and his government know they have to keep public sector unions on side through collective agreement.
This is exactly why he reached out to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) last week to invite it back to the bargaining table.
And while the offer to discuss the “anomalies thrown up by the Labour Court recommendation” to gardaí was seen as a partial climb- down, Mr Donohoe was able to sell it as a two-phase negotiation and not the beginning of a successor to Lansdowne Raod.
Renegotiation of the Lansdowne Road Agreement is not due to begin until September of next year, Whether the Government can hold out until then is a different matter.
However, securing a new agreement will be paramount — for both sides. Croke Park, Haddington Road and Lansdowne Road all laid paths which public sector unions were able to sell to their members and the Government ensured stability over a specific timeframe.
Croke Park was the first of what was to be a series of public sector pay deals which also had significant reform at its core. The deal came after the imposition of two pay cuts, and although it promised no compulsory redundancies, workers were expected to work harder with less.
Bernard Harbor of Impact said: “It was a big win for unions to be able to say we are in crisis but your job is safe. From that perspective Croke Park was a success and was seen to be a success.
“It also brought a lot of order at a time when public service morale was very low, co-operation was hard to get because of pay cuts and so on, so it brought order to that,” he says.
As the economy continued to spiral into the abyss more cuts were required. After the failure of Croke Park II, which public sector workers roundly rejected, the Haddington Road agreement was hammered out.
The deal went against the promise laid out in Croke Park, of no more pay cuts, but reductions were targeted at those earning over €65,000.
The agreement was also subdivided by sector with various measures being imposed on those in health, education, defence and other areas. As the economy finally got back into gear public sector workers began to clamber for a restoration of pay which had been swiped from them during the dark days of recession.
The Lansdowne Road Agreement, which is still in place, has started giving back a little. However, those workers now feel that pay restoration is not happening as quickly as it should and there is increasing discontent and calls for a new deal.
Have public sector pay deals been a success? Only time will tell.
As INTO assistant general secretary Peter Mullan said: “There have been cutbacks. I don’t think the system is as good as it was.
“But certainly Croke Park and the other agreements have enabled public services to still be provided, it’s not a Rolls Royce model but it didn’t stop completely.
“While the country did limp through there have been a lot of casualties,” he says.
Croke Park: Overhauling the way public service operates
Croke Park II: Deal died before it ever got off the ground
The Government threat to impose a 7% pay cut on all 290,000 public servants if the deal was rejected was not heeded by public servants, the vast majority of whom voted to reject the new proposals.
Lansdowne Road: Agreement began the process of reversing cuts in pay
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe will have a mammoth task in keeping public sector workers at bay until then.
Haddington Road: An extremely difficult pill for public sector staff to swallow
Ireland needs a pay rise
Bernard Harbour, Impact trade union
Bernard Harbor is head of communications with Impact trade union
Pay restoration demands will set us up for another fall
Eddie Molloy, Management consultant
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