Preliminary talks on Croke Park extension next week

IMPACT and other public service unions are to meet management next Wednesday (28th November) for an initial discussion on an extension of the Croke Park agreement. The decision to accept the Government’s invitation to talks was made by the ICTU Public Services Committee on Wednesday (21st).

The Government has said Croke Park protections on pay and job security will remain in place if new cost-saving measures can be agreed.

IMPACT expects officials of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to outline the rationale for an extension of the deal at next week’s meeting. No detailed management proposals for further changes to work practices have yet been tabled, and it is not expected that this will happen next week either.

At yesterday’s ICTU Public Services Committee meeting, IMPACT said it wanted to enter negotiations. The union’s May 2012 conference passed a number of motions calling for negotiations at the appropriate time. Some of the other unions still have to complete their internal consultations in advance of talks.

It is expected that talks will intensify in the New Year with the target of putting proposals to a national ballot of members in the first few months of 2013.

In a letter to IMPACT branches this week, IMPACT general secretary Shay Cody said members would benefit from an extension of the Croke Park protections in light of the very difficult economic and budgetary forecasts for 2013 and 2014.

“We will go into talks with the objective of protecting members’ pay and pensions against further cuts, and protecting against the future imposition of compulsory redundancies. Achieving success will mean agreeing to measures that cut the public service pay bill in other ways,” he said. Unions will be agreeing their detailed objectives for the discussions in the coming weeks.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin says he wants to cut a further €1 billion from the public service pay bill between 2013 and 2015. He says Croke Park protections on pay and job security will remain in place if agreement can be reached on other ways of cutting the pay bill.

In its first two years, the Croke Park deal has already delivered recurring annual savings of €1.5 billion without recourse to compulsory redundancies or further pay cuts.

The formal invitation to talks came from the secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and reform, who said: “The purpose of these discussions would be to seek agreement on additional reductions to the overall pay and pension bill and on a set of measures to further improve productivity in the public service.”

There is no doubt that the negotiations will be difficult. The Government’s budgetary calculations have been knocked by the lack of growth in the Irish and international economies. That’s why it wants to make further substantial payroll savings over the next two-three years.

Shay Cody said IMPACT intends to negotiate with the objective of agreeing a package that minimises any burden on members. “We want to ensure that any burden comes in the most acceptable form and, to the maximum extent possible, in flexible ways that reflect the different needs and circumstances of members. IMPACT will insist on fairness between different groups of staff and will seek to prioritise the protection of those on low and middle incomes,” he said.

The outcome of any negotiation will be put to a national ballot of the members concerned.