Fórsa and other public service unions have warned that the time available to negotiate and ratify a new public service pay agreement is running short. The current Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA) expires on 31st December, but talks on a successor have not moved beyond an exploratory phase, in which the two parties seek to establish whether there is scope for substantial negotiations to produce a result.
The ICTU Public Services Committee (PSC), which is made up of most of Ireland’s public service unions, met two weeks ago to hear a report on talks between union leaders and senior officials in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER).
Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan, who leads the union side, expressed disappointment at the lack of progress and said there was currently no basis for a full negotiation. This followed the cancellation of a scheduled meeting after DPER officials said they had yet to consult with public expenditure minister Michael McGrath.
Kevin said the delay was a concerning signal for all parties, including the Government.
“There is now a real possibility that we will find ourselves, perhaps unintentionally, without an agreement at the end of the year. That would create a very difficult industrial relations environment, which would be complicated further by the lingering Covid-19 crisis. I don’t believe that’s in anybody’s best interests,” he said.
Earlier, Kevin told Fórsa’s Consultative Council – made up of representatives from all the union’s branches – that, in the absence of a deal, Fórsa would prepare an alternative strategy and submit claims to employers when the PSSA expires.
He said negotiations for a new public service agreement would need to address specific austerity measures, include an acceptable approach to pay, and provide a clear path to resolving particular long-standing issues within public service grades, groups and categories, ensuring an ultimate resolution in each case.
He added that the reversal of additional working hours, introduced under the 2013 Haddington Road agreement as an alternative to an additional pay cut at the time, remained a priority issue for the union.
Speaking at the prestigious Industrial Relations News annual conference last week, Minister McGrath reiterated the Government’s desire to strike a deal, but said the economic backdrop to the talks was the most difficult imaginable.
The Programme for Government commits the coalition to negotiate a successor to the PSSA, which underpins pay and working conditions for staff across the civil and public service, including voluntary hospitals and other ‘section 38’ bodies. Public service pay agreements also cover non-commercial State agencies.
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