The Irish government has pledged to seek no further cuts to public service pay if a deal thrashed out over the weekend with union leaders is accepted by its members.
Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin, who led the talks for the government, acknowledged on Tuesday that it could be difficult for public sector workers, who had already “carried a lot of burdens like everyone in society” to swallow further cuts.
He added, “This is the last ask. If you consider this, swallow hard as I know it’s not easy and vote for this, we will not be coming back again and we can plan our recovery over the next three years.
“Hopefully, the next time we sit down to discuss pay and conditions with the public servants it will be on the basis of a recovered economy and we can talk about improvements in pay and conditions.”
His appeal for acceptance for the deal could a saving of an additional €1 billion over the next three years for the government, €300 million of it this year.
Union leaders forced to accept proposals offered in negotiations realize it’s the toughest deal for workers in the history of the state. But, having won agreement that there would be no compulsory redundancies, the union bosses reckoned they achieved the best available deal in the continuing recession.
Union leaders representing up to 80,000 workers, mainly in the medical sector, walked out of the talks, which means that one in three are “outside the tent.” But with two in three still “inside” the government and the rest of the union bosses are hopeful the majority of the public sector workforce will accept the deal in voting over the next few weeks.
However, already executives in the union representing higher and civil public servants have decided they are going to recommend their members to reject the deal.
The deal means pay cuts of 5. 5 percent for those earning over €65,000 a year, cuts to high-earner pensions, longer working hours and reduced overtime payments.
Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny’s pay will be cut from €200,000 a year to €185,000. Cabinet ministers will also suffer pay reductions.
The agreement on pay and working conditions between the government and public sector workers has been called the Croke Park Deal since it was signed in June 2010. The new agreement is being called the Croke Park Extension.
Following the 2011 referendum on judicial pay, the salaries of judges will also be decreased under the new deal.
Many of the unions that left the talks process before the agreement was reached showed no sign of changing their stance on Tuesday.
Whether they ultimately decide to take industrial action remains to be seen. Even though they left the talks, all unions will still consider the deal.
The Irish Medical Organization said the proposals “confirmed we were right to walk out of the talks.”
Gardai (police), who refused to use their own cellphones or other personal equipment over 24 hours last weekend while on duty, are likely to consider whether to step up their campaign to wider industrial action.
Chairman of the Public Services Committee of Irish Congress of Trade Unions Shay Cody said the new agreement will run until 2016 if members of the unions accept the deal.
Cody said compulsory redundancies had been part of management’s original proposals, which he described as “fairly simple and crude.”
“They wanted to have the option of compulsory redundancy in certain circumstances. So what we did was first of all, was we said there was no circumstances at all that there could be an agreement that provided for compulsory redundancy,” said Cody.
“It wasn’t necessary; the public service could manage redeployment and in fact has managed that very successfully up to now.
“I think the government got, in financial terms, what they wanted. From our point of view I think we’ve done it in a way that is a lot fairer than the original proposals.
“But the only reason we were in this discussion is that the public finances are still in major deficit, we didn’t get the growth that was going to solve this problem and frankly make this problem go away.”
Labor Party TDs (members of Parliament) are backing the new public sector pay deal, since their party is a minority partner in the government.
But they are bracing themselves for a backlash. Many TDs expect to come under pressure from public sector workers who voted for them at the last general election to ensure there were no further cuts to pay and conditions.
The party is pinning its hopes on a recovery in the economy by the time of the 2016 general election.
Labor chief whip Emmet Stagg said he believed the deal was a good achievement, with no further cuts in the lifetime of this government.
He added, “I think they have arrived at a very balanced and fair deal, spreading the burden across the sectors, and I hope at the end of the three years we can look at negotiations for wage increases.”