Croke Park talks update – 28th January 2013

28th January 2013

The talks on a possible successor to the Croke Park agreement have entered their third week. Last week we reported that management has given some details of pay costs in each of the main sectors of the public service, and had indicated what savings they are seeking in each sector.

There were a number of sectoral meetings last week, in which unions sought more detail on pay costs and estimates of how much could be saved if various management proposals were implemented. There will be more meetings this week to explore issues at both sectoral and cross-sectoral level.

It is also expected that there will be talks on cross-sectoral issues raised by the unions, including outsourcing and the operation of redeployment.

At the outset, IMPACT said that a deal would not be possible on the basis of the entire package of proposals tabled by public service management at the opening of talks. However, the union said it might be possible to negotiate an acceptable and equitable package if management’s opening ‘wish list’ were seen as an option of measures to explore.

Although nothing has been agreed yet – and much of the detail of management proposals is yet to be clarified – the key areas where they are seeking large savings include: A substantial reduction in the cost of overtime and other premium payments; teachers’ payments for substitution and supervision; a significant contribution from the ‘higher paid’ – although ‘higher paid’ has not been defined; and changes to working hours.

Unions believe that a significant part of the €1 billion that management seeks to cut from payroll costs will also come from savings for bringing forward headcount reduction. The Government’s recently-announced ‘targeted voluntary redundancy scheme’ will bring forward expected savings by a year (from end 2015 to end 2014) and we believe some of the savings from this must be credited to any new agreement.

Management says it wants to conclude the talks by mid-February, which is ambitious. A lot more work has to be done on the detail of all the issues. This includes the difficult task of negotiating to minimise the impact on members and maintaining maximum protections over working conditions. It also means a lot of technical work to see how proposals would work in practice and to ensure that there are no unintended consequences or anomalies arising from any measure.

If it proves possible to hammer out a package, it will be put to ballot of all the affected IMPACT members. The same will happen in the other unions. IMPACT general secretary Shay Cody, who is leading unions in the talks, has told management that any outcome would have to meet three criteria:

  • Management would have to demonstrate that any proposal would make genuine and necessary savings
  • Any package would have to be fair, which means the burden could not fall disproportionately on any group of staff, particularly those on low and middle incomes
  • The outcome would have to pass the tests of ballots of union members.

Ministers and management have said that, while they want to reach an agreement, they will seek to impose €1 billion in payroll savings in the absence of a deal. In a recent TV interview, the Taoiseach said the Government would legislate to secure “at least” €1 billion, and elements in the majority Government party would inevitably seek to extent the attack on our terms and conditions in the absence of a deal.