Croke Park talks update – 18th February 2013

Monday 18th February 2013

As expected, the talks on a possible extension to the Croke Park agreement accelerated last week. It is now expected that work will intensify again, with a view to reaching an outcome by the end of the month.

Negotiations are continuing around a range of issues, most of which inevitably affect different groups of staff in different ways. IMPACT and other unions are focussed on trying to ensure an equitable result, where the net outcome of a final package does not hit any group disproportionately.

A lot of time has so far been devoted to establishing how – and by how much – specific proposals could contribute towards management’s goal of reducing the public service pay and pensions bill by a further €1 billion between 2013 and 2016. This is on top of the €3.3 billion worth of savings already being delivered under Croke Park.

As a result, union negotiators were able to outline the following developments at a meeting of the ICTU Public Services Committee last Friday (15th February):

  • Any agreement on additional working hours would enable an acceleration of planned reductions in staff numbers. Together with a ‘higher pay contribution,’ this could be expected to generate over €350 million of the required savings.
  • Unions have made suggestions on how a ‘higher pay contribution’ could put into effect and are awaiting a response at political/management level.
  • IMPACT believes the gap between unions and management on working hours will narrow. Management is seeking the equivalent of an extra hour a day for all staff, but IMPACT has said it will not recommend a deal on this basis. The issue is complex because of the wide variety of working hours worked across the public service.  As well as having the potential to accelerate the planned reduction in staffing, additional hours would lead to significant additional savings by reducing dependence on overtime, agency work and, possibly, contractors.
  • Management is currently seeking savings of almost €170 million through changes to premium payments for working on Saturdays, Sundays and weekday ‘twilight’ hours. IMPACT believes this figure can be reduced. A verifiable reduction in the volume of Sunday attendances could also contribute to the savings figure.
  • The Government is likely to seek a contribution from top pensions, although this is unlikely to deliver large savings because very few public servants retire on high pensions.
  • Some savings would also be made from allowances, although this is also expected to be a relatively small part of the overall target. IMPACT doesn’t expect specific allowances to be named in any agreement. The union believes a recent binding Labour Court recommendation (on allowances for VEC chief executive officers) may provide guidelines on the types of allowances that could be bought out.
  • Sectoral talks covering teaching, prisons and defence are currently exploring savings specific to those areas.

Further discussions on these issues are now underway in sectoral and cross-sectoral talks. They are being facilitated by experts from the Labour Relations Commission. At this stage, it is not possible to make a definitive calculation of the savings expected from each measure, which means other proposals could emerge if the package falls short of management’s €1 billion target.

Meanwhile, the union agenda – which includes revision of the pension levy and measures to address the emerging two-tier workforce – remains on the table, along with other specific issues raised by various unions including IMPACT.

Last week, management reiterated that it wanted a negotiated agreement, but said it would seek to impose payroll savings of at least €1 billion if agreement couldn’t be reached. In this circumstance, management revealed that it could apply ‘focused’ legislation, as opposed to ‘one size fits all’ measures like the 2010 pay cuts and the 2009 pension levy.

Read previous updates HERE.