Croke Park talks update

14th December 2012

Negotiations on an extension to the Croke Park agreement will intensify early in the New Year. IMPACT and other public service unions had preliminary meetings with public service management last month after the Government issued an invitation to talks.

No specific proposals to achieve the Government’s aim of saving an additional €1 billion from the public service pay bill between 2013 and 2015 have been put to unions so far. But Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has said that Croke Park protections on pay and job security will only remain in place if new cost-saving measures are agreed in the talks.

Last month, officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform gave unions a detailed analysis of the county’s budgetary situation. This confirmed that the Croke Park agreement was on course to deliver €3.3 billion in payroll savings by 2015 – but that lack of growth in the economy meant that the Government now had to find more if it was to meet troika deficit targets.

IMPACT general secretary Shay Cody, who also chairs the ICTU public services committee, told management that unions were willing to try to reach an agreement, but that it would have to meet three criteria to succeed. First, management would have to prove that its proposals would make genuine savings. Second, any measures would have to be fair, which meant they could not fall disproportionately on any group of staff, particularly those on low and middle incomes. Thirdly, the outcome would have to pass the tests of ballots in IMPACT and other unions.

Shay also said members would be influenced by events in Europe, particularly the issue of Ireland’s payment of bank debt.

IMPACT’s 2012 conference passed a number of motions, which gave the go-ahead for the union to enter negotiations at the appropriate time. The Government hopes to reach an agreement early in the New Year with the target of putting proposals to national ballots of union members in the first few months of 2014.

It is expected that the Labour Relations Commission will facilitate the talks, as it did in the original Croke Park negotiations in 2010.

In a recent letter to IMPACT branches, Shay Cody said members would benefit from an extension of the Croke Park protections – which guard against compulsory redundancies and further pay cuts – in light of the very difficult economic and budgetary forecasts for 2013 and 2014.

“We are in talks with the objective of protecting members’ pay and pensions against further cuts, and preventing any imposition of compulsory redundancies. Achieving success will mean agreeing to measures that cut the public service pay bill in other ways,” he said.

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. This has required substantial changes in work practices including changes to sick leave and holiday entitlements, additional working time in local authorities, roster changes for many health workers, and the redeployment of thousands of public servants.

If the negotiators are able to negotiate a package, the outcome will be put to a national ballot of the members concerned.