Public service union negotiators have today (Friday) recommended a coordinated union campaign on public service pay, supported by industrial action ballots, to address the impact of soaring inflation on low and middle earners. They also said they were no longer prepared to discuss an extension of the Building Momentum agreement, to cover pay in 2023, until improved terms for 2021-2022 are agreed.
In a letter to members of ICTU’s Public Services Committee (PSC), the PSC’s lead negotiators said they had now concluded that the Government was breaching the current public service pay agreement by failing to conclude a review of the Building Momentum pay terms. The review clause was triggered over four months ago.
Their letter to PSC affiliates, who collectively represent over 90% of Ireland’s public servants, said:
“The PSC invoked the Building Momentum review clause on 11th March, when inflation was 5.6%. We did this with the objective of significantly improving the pay element of the agreement, taking account of higher-than-expected inflation in both 2021 and 2022.
“The Government eventually responded in May, when inflation had reached 7%. Subsequent talks in the Workplace Relations Commission ended without agreement on 17th June, by which time inflation had hit 7.8%.
“Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) officials subsequently told the WRC that the Government needed more time to reflect on its position and four weeks later – with inflation at 9.1% – they are still reflecting. Meanwhile, the Dáíl has gone into recess and will not resume until 14th September, less than two weeks before the Budget.
“The Government administration is now effectively winding down until mid-September, leaving low and middle-income public servants with the prospect of another two months of uncertainty. In our view, the Government’s attitude towards its staff is bordering on contempt.
“Given its continued foot-dragging, it seems clear that the Government does not intend to conclude the review of Building Momentum.
“On this basis, we have told the WRC that we are no longer in a position to continue discussions on an extension of Building Momentum, to cover pay in 2023, until the review of Building Momentum is satisfactorily concluded. If there is no extension in place before the current agreement expires at the end of December, we will have to submit pay claims for next year.
“We are also recommending a coordinated union campaign, supported by industrial action ballots, to achieve a credible pay offer for 2021-2022 for public servants who, in common with workers across the economy, are bearing the full brunt of large and sustained increases in the cost of home heating, fuel, food, housing, childcare, and many other essentials. We recommend that unions begin practical arrangements for balloting, to begin next month, pending a meeting of the Public Services Committee to coordinate the campaign.
“You will recall that the pay talks ended without agreement in mid-June after the Government offered an additional increase of just 2.5% for the 2021-2022 period of the current agreement. This is clearly inadequate when inflation now seems likely to be over 10% in that period.”
The unions say their members are increasingly frustrated at the delay in the process, coupled with mixed messages coming from the most senior Government sources.
While the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has talked down prospects of an improved Government offer, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar last month said the Government was prepared to make “a further offer.” This week, Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil that the Government wanted to reach a public service pay agreement prior to the Budget, which would include “parallel” measures to ease cost-of-living pressures.
The ICTU PSC officers are Kevin Callinan (chair) John King (secretary), Phil Ni Sheaghdha (vice chair) and John Boyle (vice chair).