The possibility that no public service pay agreement will be in place to follow the current deal when it expires at the end of next year has been raised by Fórsa at a meeting of ICTU’s Public Service Committee, which represents most unions with members in the public sector.
The union’s general secretary Kevin Callinan said Fórsa and other unions needed to prepare for the possibility, while urging the Government to inject more urgency into addressing problems with the current Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA).
Talks with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), which have been underway since April, have reached broad agreement on a basic architecture for sectoral bargaining. This would allow unions to deal with grade-specific issues in talks early next year, with a view to implementing outcomes as part of a successor to the PSSA.
But there has, so far, been no agreement on the amount of money that would be available to meet such claims. More worryingly, the sectoral process is yet to be signed off at political level.
This needs to happen soon because a near-certain election in the first half of next year will telescope the time available for talks on a PSSA successor. It was expected that these would take place in the spring or early summer of 2020, but it’s now possible that an election – or post-election coalition talks – will be underway at that time instead.
Although PSSA pay increases are budgeted for 2020, next October’s budget would have to make provision for 2021. The likely electoral timetable means it’s increasingly feasible that negotiations and union ballots may not be concluded by then.
Earlier this year, Fórsa’s Kevin Callinan led unions into talks when he said the PSSA was no longer adequate to maintain living standards and keep up with economy-wide wage settlements. Since then the problem has worsened, with average private sector wage growth now running at three times the rate of public service increases.
Unions therefore fear a nightmare worst-case scenario where public sector pay continues to lag behind in 2020, and no deal is in place to deal with this in 2021 and beyond.
The union-backed Nevin Economic Research Institute has predicted average economy-wide pay increases of 4% in 2020 – a year when PSSA increases will be a maximum of 2.5% in total.
Fórsa has also insisted that a mechanism for dealing with grade-specific issues, including recruitment and retention difficulties, must be put in place.
It says the need for this has deepened since the summer, when the Government wound up the Public Service Pay Commission before it had made determinations for all but a tiny number of grades like nurses and doctors.