Congress Calls on Government to Restore Pay to Section 39 Workers

Today (Monday, September 3rd) ICTU General Secretary Patricia King has called on the Government to restore pay to Section 39 workers, in line with the public sector agreement. King has specifically called on the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Health to immediately make available resources to resolve the dispute.

“The workers in Section 39 Organisations had their pay cut in line with cuts imposed on workers in the public sector. Now that pay is being restored in the public sector workers in Section 39 Organisations should also receive the terms of the public sector pay agreement.”

Patricia King’s comments follow a meeting earlier today in which SIPTU, FÓRSA and UNITE confirmed that they would be consulting with members to consider what action is appropriate in light of the failure of Government to address the issue of pay restoration for workers in Section 39 Organisations.

ICTU Public Services Committee approves Public Service Stability Agreement

The Public Services Committee (PSC) of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has today (Monday 18th September 2017) voted to approve the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA). The deal was accepted by 80% to 20% on an aggregate ballot of the PSC at a meeting in the ICTU Offices in Dublin this morning (Monday, 18th September).

Individual unions balloted their members over the summer on the terms of the agreement, which was endorsed by members of SIPTU, IMPACT, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), TEEU and civil service unions the PSEU and CPSU.

The agreement ensures that, by 2020, more than 90% of public servants will be out of ‘FEMPI’ pay provisions, and almost a quarter will have exited FEMPI pension levy payments.

The deal guarantees public servants pay restoration, job security and pension certainty through positive pay and pension levy adjustments. 73% of public sector workers will receive a boost of 7% or more to their take-home pay while preserving the value of their pensions and protecting their jobs from outsourcing over the lifetime of the agreement.

The agreement also provides a clear road map to address outstanding issues like pay for new entrants employed since 2010 and any outstanding barriers to recruitment and retention of health professionals.

The unions will immediately seek to have discussions with the Government to activate these provisions.

 Main provisions of the Public Sector Stability Agreement (PSSA):

  • 1st January 2018: 1% pay adjustment
  • 1st October 2018: 1% pay adjustment
  • 1st January 2019: Pension levy threshold up from €28,750 to €32,000 (worth €325pa)
  • 1st January 2019: 1% pay adjustment for those earning less than €30,000
  • 1st September 2019: 1.75% pay adjustment
  • 1st January 2020: Pension levy threshold increased to €34,500 (worth €250pa)
  • 1st January 2020: 0.5% pay increase for those earning less than €32,000
  • 1st October 2020: 2% pay adjustment

The proposed agreement includes a range of non-pay measures including:

  • The retention of outsourcing protections
  • A facility to revert to pre-Haddington Road working hours (with a commensurate pay adjustment)
  • An end to pension levy payments on non-pensionable earnings, including overtime
  • A process to address longer pay scales for new (post-2010) entrants
  • A process to assess recruitment and retention problems in certain grades and professions
  • Commitments on work-life balance arrangements, and
  • A commitment not to increase NMBI, CORU, or other professional registration fees, during the lifetime of the agreement.

Public Sector Pay: Where are we now?

The speech below is from Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Pascal Donohue. He was speaking at the IRN Conference in Dublin on Thursday 9th March on “industrial relations in a time of heightened expectations’

I find the theme of this year’s event — ‘Where are we now? Industrial relations in a time of heightened expectations’ — both apt and timely in the current context. But before getting into that in more detail, I’d like to ask you all to take a minute to reflect on where we are coming from.

This country has come through a deep crisis over the last decade — but it has done so in a climate of widespread industrial relations peace across its public service.

To my mind this is a huge achievement — especially when we see the unrest that other countries have endured — and one that probably doesn’t get enough credit.

There is little doubt that industrial peace during those difficult years contributed in a very tangible way to restoring Ireland’s international reputation and creating the conditions for economic recovery to take root and for jobs to return.

It is easy to take this for granted and we should take care not to do so. It took a huge investment of time and effort by all concerned to deliver and sustain industrial peace during this challenging period.

This deserves to be acknowledged.

Three collective agreements have provided the framework for that to be achieved — the Croke Park Agreement, the Haddington Road Agreement and the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

Together these agreements have enabled the delivery of an ambitious agenda of public service reform, together with significant savings and efficiencies in the public service pay bill.

Ensuring that both formal and informal lines of communication between the parties were fully utilised was critical during these very difficult times, as well as proactively using the dispute resolution mechanisms provided for within the agreements to overcome problems as they arose.

More recently, for example, we have re-invigorated the oversight structures under the Lansdowne Road Agreement and this has helped us to respond effectively to the challenges faced in recent months.

THE CASE FOR COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT

As I speak to you today, we are preparing the ground for negotiations on a further collective agreement. So a valid question to ask at this juncture is: Do we need a new agreement? I believe we do.

Why? Because a collective agreement encompassing as many parties as possible is the surest way to guarantee a stable and fair industrial relations environment into the future.

More broadly speaking though, an agreement and the stability it brings is, I believe, important for successfully managing a small, open economy such as Ireland’s which has a high level of external economic challenge: it furthermore provides clarity and certainty around the management of the Exchequer pay bill which accounts for over a third of all public expenditure.

Industrial relations stability also helps Ireland to continue to attract foreign direct investment, delivering much needed employment.

I think you will agree that stability is essential in a time of such global flux and uncertainty as we now face.

An agreement is positive too for those workers within that agreement. Remember, a natural response to the fiscal crisis we faced might have been compulsory redundancies, but we didn’t go down that road.

Sacrifices were undoubtedly made, but through the various collective agreements, we made every effort to minimise the burden of pay cuts on the lower paid and to prioritise these groups in the restoration of pay.

What the agreements give to public servants is a fair deal and a level playing field.

They ensure no lay-offs but they also ensure no leap-frogging.

For me, the inherent fairness of this approach is really important. We shouldn’t set public pay based on a reactive response to those who shout loudest or who are better placed to exert influence.

We have to ensure an equitable approach that considers all of our public servants on equal merit.

An inclusive collective approach is the best way to do that in my view.

Step outside of that framework and you are stepping into an “I win — you lose” negative and perverse type of situation in which there will inevitably be more losers than winners.

And one group guaranteed to be losers in that ‘win — lose’ scenario is the public who cannot afford to be used as pawns in this way.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS

To return to the theme of the conference — we are at a time of heightened expectations. Of that there is no doubt.

In many ways though, this is a by-product of a growing economy that is emerging from a difficult period.

So, in that sense, rising expectations are an indicator of success — it shows that people generally are confident that things are moving in the right direction.

However, we need to temper these expectations or we will end up right back where we began.

We have to ensure that the huge sacrifices of our citizens, including the public servants who have worked longer hours for less money, are not lost.

Thanks to prudent planning, we are in the relatively better position of having escaped the fate of many of our neighbours in Europe: we are a country in recovery, with steadily declining unemployment and steadily rising economic growth.

With recovery taking hold, it would be unforgivable, therefore, to seek to return to the type of decision-making which necessitated the very difficult sacrifices in the first place.

Nor is it realistic to think that we can meet every present demand or every past grievance that surfaces.

If we want to see the end of financial emergency legislation for good, then we can’t make reckless fiscal choices.

I believe a collective agreement encompassing public service pay and further reform will be key to ensuring that we grow expenditure and pay in an affordable and sustainable strategic way.

It will allow Government to strike a balance between affordable pay increases for public servants and other social priorities including improvements in housing and health care.

An agreement can also ensure that we continue to deliver further public service reform and service improvements for citizens.

I have made the case for a collective agreement, but I would like to sound a note of realism about what is possible from a fiscal perspective.

And here I am very anxious to avoid any suggestion that I may be commencing the negotiations process in public — which is a matter for a later time.

But nevertheless, there are fiscal realities and constraints within which we as Government must operate and I would like these to be better understood — which is not easy given their complexity!

In simple terms, even if we didn’t have obligations under the EU fiscal rules, there would be an onus on us to manage our pay policy in a disciplined and prudent fashion.

The current rules mean, however, that notwithstanding heightened expectations and strong economic growth, resources remain significantly constrained over the medium-term.

We are still running a deficit for example — in 2016 we were still borrowing close to €7m a day to fund the delivery of public services. And we are still working to meet our Medium Term Objective under the Fiscal Rules by 2018 which, if achieved, may provide Government with more latitude in future years.

So constrained resources mean difficult choices have to be made.

A growing but ageing population means we face increased demand for public services, whether in health, education or social protection.

Investment has to be made in these services to meet this demand, as well as in other areas where pressures are emerging as a result of a growing economy — childcare, housing and infrastructure for example.

In a public service context, our frontline services are under immense pressure, with staffing levels still in the process of being consolidated.

Government recognises this and is working to address these pressures by investing in the recruitment of additional front-line staff.

Increasing staff numbers, however important and worthwhile, add to the costs of the Exchequer pay bill.

As do pay improvements for public servants which is a sign of a normal functioning efficient economy and rightly aspired to by all interests concerned.

So a balance has to be struck here between these two important levers if we are to maintain control and stability over expenditure in the coming years and comply with our fiscal obligations.

PRODUCTIVITY AND REFORM

This speaks to the need to focus on further productivity and efficiency improvements in our public service in the years ahead.

I have mentioned the significant programme of savings and reform that were achieved under both the Croke Park and Haddington Road Agreements.

These savings and reforms have allowed us to legitimately say that we were ‘doing more with less’.

They have also contributed in no small measure to ensuring that the normal pay increase expectations on the part of public servants and their representatives can be realised both now and into the future.

The reform and productivity measures in the previous agreements have delivered — and continue to deliver — real results in terms of supporting the delivery of front-line services on which all of our citizens depend to varying degrees — at a time when public expenditure was reduced.

Some examples of what I’m referring to include:

The additional hours secured under the Haddington Road Agreement, which remain critical to enabling us to meet increased demand in front-line service areas and to improve services to the public generally.

The establishment of streamlined shared service operations across the public service, such as SUSI in the education sector and the National Shared Service Office.

Consolidation and re-organisation to deliver efficiencies involving the merger of agencies and creation of streamlined structures, such as the Education Training Boards and in local government.

Moving more services online, including motor tax and Revenue’s myAccount for example.

Developing integrated one-stop shop solutions for the public, such as the INTREO office network in the Department of Social Protection.

Reform is also about improving the work environment for public servants through initiatives aimed at improving our approach to learning and development and facilitating opportunities for greater mobility.

You may think the urgency has passed in relation to all of that but let me assure you it hasn’t.

Because the only way we can respond to both the increased demands on our public services and the expectations of public servants to see their pay start to grow again — within the limited room for manoeuvre we have on the public finances — is to look again at how we can further improve on productivity and efficiency gains in the public service.

This means building on the structural reforms and work practices changes introduced under previous agreements.

My Department are now in the process of drawing up a new three-year Public Service Reform Plan which will set out our vision for the next wave of reform.

We will be looking to consolidate the good progress made to date and to set out the further steps that need to be taken to realise our goals around ensuring we deliver top quality public services in a cost effective way.

Of course, public servants are taxpayers and citizens too — something often conveniently forgotten by those seeking to foster division — and will make their own minds up on how the available fiscal space should be allocated across pay, staffing, tax reductions, childcare, housing, health and other priority areas.

MOVING FORWARD

There is perhaps a feeling in the air — given developments over the last year — that we can’t continue as we have or that collective agreements in the public service have had their day. I disagree.

This is an incredibly short-sighted way of looking at things. It is effectively refusing to make choices that are necessary for the greater common good. That approach — if universally applied — would be very destructive and counter-productive.

Everyone ultimately loses in this scenario.

For all of the reasons I have outlined — not least the need for inherent fairness and balance — a collective approach is as important as ever.

We can — and must — continue to do the hard work together to maintain industrial peace, with all the benefits that brings to our public servants, our economy and our society.

And we must also collectively continue to try to balance competing priorities with an awareness of their implications elsewhere.

Those who seek to prioritise their own narrow agenda over a wider settlement are shirking this broader responsibility toward fairness and balance. These same people will criticise any agreement as a ‘sell-out’, rather than recognising that one can be pragmatic and remain principled. We simply cannot afford to listen to such people.

Before we begin negotiations, we await the report of the Public Service Pay Commission.

This report, due soon, will provide a key input to the talks process by providing evidence-based objective analysis on a number of key issues, including how the unwinding of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest — or FEMPI — legislation should proceed, as well as for example, the issue of the value attached to public service pensions.

The process of moving to a post-FEMPI world commenced under the Lansdowne Road Agreement and will be further advanced under any new agreement.

This is an important development because it signals a normalisation in our approach to both pay and industrial relations in the public service and is an indicator in itself of our re-emergence as a normal functioning economy.

For me, the priorities are simple — we need an agreement that is affordable, sustainable and fair.

However, the very real fiscal limitations we face, coupled with the many competing demands, including on pay as I’ve outlined, when set against the expectation levels that are prevailing, make these forthcoming negotiations arguably one of the most challenging.

CONCLUSION

It will not be easy to secure an agreement in such circumstances. I recognise that. I do not underestimate the challenge.

But let me conclude by saying that the Government is clear that it wants to reach an agreement and will put its best foot forward in an attempt to do so.

Pragmatism, realism and compromise will certainly be required on all sides.

If our experience with Croke Park, Haddington Road and Lansdowne Road is anything to go by though, I know there will be no shortage of these qualities on offer over the coming weeks and that should give us the confidence to collectively succeed in achieving a mutually acceptable outcome.

SIPTU to authorise strike ballots unless Government opens talks on public service pay

SIPTU General President, Jack O’Connor, has said that the union will authorise ballots for industrial action, including strike action, among its 60,000 members in the public service unless the Government sets an early date for the opening of talks on pay and related matters.

 Speaking at the union’s Public Administration and Community Division biennial conference today, Jack O’Connor said:

“We utterly reject the assertion that there is no money and that it is a choice between pay increases and services for the public.  This is an absolutely false dichotomy.  The fact of the matter is that the Government made choices in the budget.  For example, it decided to continue to gift business in the hotel and hospitality sector with special VAT concessions costing more than €600m per annum at the tax-payers expense.  They chose to do so despite the fact that the industry has fully recovered. 

“Moreover, they chose to retain this very costly VAT concession notwithstanding the fact that employers in the industry continue to refuse to participate in the Joint Labour Committee to negotiate some improvement for their employees who are the lowest paid workers in the country.  At very least, the Government should have insisted that generous concessions at the tax-payers expense, which are no longer necessary, should be accompanied by some modicum of social responsibility.

“In addition to squandering this huge amount of tax-payers and public money it also decided to splurge a further €46 million on gifting for the wealthy through cutting capital taxes.  Even now, at the eleventh hour, it is not too late to amend the Finance Bill to generate additional revenues to facilitate a negotiation.  This could be done by amending the provisions relating to the taxation of vulture funds and others engaged in property speculation as well as radically tightening up on tax evasion.  (This has been addressed in depth by, among others, Independent TD Stephen Donnelly).

“We fully respect the right of every trade union to take such action as it deems necessary, in the interests of its members, and especially to address the injustice of lower entry rates.  However, the problem is that once and group embarks on a solo run, everyone else will have to follow. This is because it could lead to a situation that any resources that are available will be absorbed in settling these individual disputes and there will be nothing left for anyone else.  Accordingly, it is now imperative that the Government sets an early date for the commencement of talks to renegotiate the Lansdowne Road Agreement. 

I am today calling on the Government to issue an immediate invitation to the Public Services Committee of ICTU for the opening of talks which should commence not later than the 1st February, 2017. 

“Moreover, if they do not do so before this day week, our National Executive Council will authorise any negotiating group of members, who are covered by the Lansdowne Road Agreement, and who wish to do so, to commence balloting for industrial action and/or strike action in pursuit of their demands. 

“This is not the way we want things to proceed.  There is absolutely no doubt that a national agreement is best for all Public Service workers.  Everyone has far more leverage in negotiations for an agreement that would cover all of the 300,000 workers involved, than trying to do it one group at a time, in isolation.  That is why we strongly believe that the negotiations should be conducted by the Public Services Committee of Congress on which all the unions affected, are represented.   It is also actually better for the people of Ireland, who they serve, because of the stability and coherence it provides. 

“However, the terms of an agreement must be relevant to the circumstances that apply. Economic conditions have improved considerably more rapidly than those which were envisaged when the Lansdowne Road agreement was negotiated.  Moreover, what is at issue is pay restoration and addressing deplorably low entry rates which were introduced in economic circumstances which no longer apply.  That is why I pointed out in the public arena, in advance of the budget, that it was time to renegotiate Lansdowne Road.  In the past, agreements have been amended to take account of changed conditions.   That is how the Haddington Road Agreement came about in the middle of 2013, when the economy deteriorated to an unexpected degree.”

Please note the SIPTU Health Division intends on seeking approval for industrial action across all grades if our demands are not met. Members can stay informed here or on our App.

Chair and composition of Public Service Pay Commission crucial to its credibility, say public service unions

The following statement was issued by the ICTU Public Services Committee today (Tuesday) after the Cabinet approved the establishment of a Public Service Pay Commission (PSPC).

“The Public Services Committee (PSC) of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is ready to engage with Minister Paschal Donohoe and his officials on the terms of reference of the proposed Public Services Pay Commission. Following earlier discussions with Minister Donohoe and his officials, we believe that the Commission has the potential to assist in both the unwinding of the FEMPI (Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) legislation, and in addressing other outstanding issues of concern to public servants.

The credibility of the proposed Commission, in the eyes of public employees and others, will depend on it being chaired by a highly qualified and fully independent expert with a deep understanding of public service pay determination and related issues, including from an employee perspective.

Similarly, its membership will have to be balanced and appropriately weighted to properly reflect all issues outlined in the terms of reference. Among other things, this will require an adequate number of members with a trade union background and experience of public service remuneration and related matters.

The PSC understands that the PSPC will not replace direct pay negotiations between the Government and public service unions. This welcome assurance reflects the position put to the PSC in various engagements with Minister Donohoe and his officials.

The PSC also understands that any international pay comparisons made by the Commission will take account of the cost of living in the jurisdictions examined. This is also welcome.

We understand that trade unions and others will be invited to make submissions to the Commission, and that its findings and evidence will be published, and we will engage in the process on this basis.”

Public Service Committee of ICTU vote to approve Lansdowne Road Agreement

The Public Services Committee (PSC) of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has voted to approve the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

The deal was approved by an aggregate ballot of the PSC at a meeting on Wednesday 16th September 2015

The Lansdowne Road Agreement extends the main provisions of the Haddington Road Agreement until September 2018, and restores around €2,000 to the pay of most public servants in three phases between January 2016 and September 2017. The pay restoration will be achieved through a combination of adjustments to the public service pension levy and a partial reversal of the 2010 public service pay cuts.

Speaking to SIPTUhealth.ie Divisional Organiser Paul Bell said: “One of the main reasons SIPTU enjoyed a successful campaign and ballot supporting the Lansdowne Road Agreement is that our members had the opportunity to frame our agenda. Our members demanded job security and pay recovery. We have achieved those objectives and now move forward stronger and better together.

Throughout our consultation meetings around the country we made it clear the Lansdowne Road Agreement is the first step on the journey to repair the damage inflicted on our public health service and workers since the crash. Our members now have protection from outsourcing, a modest increase in their take home pay, our intern members working in the health service the opportunity of a permanent job and our nurses and midwives a freeze in professional fees.”

Bell said that the next step for SIPTU Health is to continue the conversation with shop stewards to organise the membership in demanding a fully resourced public health service that the Irish people deserve and can be proud of.

Individual unions balloted their members on the terms of the agreement through the summer months. The agreement was endorsed by members of the Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation (INMO), SIPTU, the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO), MLSA, TEEU and IMPACT. In recent days the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU) and the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) also voted to approve the deal.

Shay Cody, General Secretary of IMPACT and chair of the PSC, said that the Lansdowne Road Agreement marked a significant step forward for workers after seven years of pay cuts, and reflected a growing trend for wage improvements across many sectors of the economy since 2014.

“Workers in the public and private sectors have faced huge challenges during the economic crisis. Pay improvements across all sectors are a crucial element of the country’s continuing economic recovery. More money in workers’ hands will largely be spent in the local economy, improving living standards and, most importantly, contributing to the job growth which has now developed,” he said.

To watch Paul Bell, Divisional Organiser speak on the Lansdowne Road Agreement click here