Fórsa has said reductions in working time, including the objective of returning public servants to their pre-crisis hours, should be among the priorities in talks on a successor to the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA), which expires in 2020.
Speaking at Fórsa’s Civil Service Division conference in Killarney, the chair of the Division, Niall McGuirk, acknowledged limited concessions on the issue in the PSSA, but said members expected the union to seek further progress in future.
The 2013 Haddington Road agreement increased working time for most, though not all, civil and public servants. Eight motions calling for a return to ‘pre-Haddington Road hours’ were submitted to last weeks inaugural civil service divisional conference by Fórsa branches.
Mr McGuirk said this reflected strong feeling on the ground, and an expectation that the union would keep the issue on the agenda in future pay talks. “I fully support the principal that working time must remain a key Fórsa objective, along with other priorities like new entrants, pay equity and wider improvements in income for all the people we represent,” he said.
Mr McGuirk acknowledged that the PSSA included a provision for individuals to opt to return to pre-2013 hours in exchange for a proportionate reduction in pay, as well as a facility to convert some leave into flexitime. The latter measure gives some flexibility to staff facing short-term family commitments.
“These measures help, but they are not a return to the pre-crisis situation. We know that there are competing demands on what can be achieved in negotiations. But working time cannot, and will not, fall off the table. I expect us to send a message to our negotiators that this issue means a lot to very many of our members,” he said.
Unions sought a return to pre-2011 hours in last summer’s negotiations, which resulted in agreement on the PSSA. But Minister Paschal Donohoe and his officials were adamant that they would not do a deal that restored working time lost under previous agreements, saying the additional working time was worth a total of over €583 million a year to the exchequer.
Mr McGuirk also said the recent conversion of the so-called pension levy into an ‘additional pension contribution’ should settle the issue of public service pensions. He said unions had protected the value of pensions in the PSSA by agreeing to the ‘additional pension contribution’ on all earnings above €34,500 a year.
“This is a fair trade-off that should lay the matter of public service pensions to rest. We will be keeping a very careful eye on this over the next number of years, just as we will be supporting demands for better pension provision for all workers, regardless of the sector they happen to be employed in,” he said.
Mr McGuirk noted that unions had successfully taken lower-paid workers out of the pension levy in successive negotiations. In 2009, all earnings above €15,000 were subject to the levy, which averaged 7% of earnings and more for higher-paid staff. By January 2020, that ceiling will have risen to €34,500.
“That means anyone earning below €34,500 will no longer pay the levy, while those earning more will pay the levy on a significantly smaller proportion of their income,” he said.
The full text of Niall McGuirk’s speech to conference is available here