Industrial action in the health service and other parts of the public sector is now threatened following the collapse of the proposed new Croke Park deal.
The country’s largest public service union,SIPTU, which includes 45,000 health service workers, has rejected the ‘Croke Park 11’ proposals by a margin of 53.7% against and 46.3% in favour.
The SIPTU vote, however, is expected to lead to the collapse of the Croke Park Deal extension proposals, as they cannot be sanctioned by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) without the support of SIPTU, which is the largest union in the country.
The IMPACT union, which also represents health service workers, has voted by 56% to 46% to accept the new Croke Park deal.
The Government may now move to legislate for the implementation of pay cuts in the public sector in the absence of overall union agreement on the Croke Park proposals. This would put the Government on a collision course with the unions.
Commenting on the result, SIPTU General President Jack O’Connor said that the vote reflected the sense of grievance among working people and public service workers, in particular, ‘that they are carrying an excessive burden in the post-crisis adjustment.’
SIPTU and the INMO urged the Government not to legislate for pay cuts. The INMO said this would ‘inevitably result in major disagreement and a potential dispute.’
The HSE needed to save €150 million this year from planned pay savings under the Croke Park deal in order to stay within budget.
The health executive’s latest performance report says this sum had yet to be allocated to its budgetary calculations pending the outcome of the public service pay agreement extension.
In the absence of these pay savings, the HSE may be forced to cut services to balance its books.
The ‘Croke Park 11’ measures included pay and allowance cuts of between 5.5% and 10% for those with salaries above €65,000 -and the reduction of premium rates for staff working on Sundays from double time to 1.75 times the normal hourly rate.
Other overtime rateswere to be cut to time and half for those on less than €35,000 and time and a quarter for those earning more than €35,000. Staff currently on a 39 hour week would do an unpaid hour’s overtime.
Basic pay of staff earning over €185,000 was due to be be cut by 10%.
The deal provided for a three year increments freeze for staff earning more than €65,000, those earning below €35,000 faced a three month increment freeze, while those paid between €35,000 and and €65,000 faced two three-month freezes.
THE TEACHERS’ UNION OF IRELAND (TUI) has voted in favour of a motion that instructs its executive committee not to re-enter talks on Croke Park 2 with either government or management and to reject any imposition of proposals on its memebers.
One of the emergency motions voted on today instructs the executive committee to withdraw from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) if attempts are made to impose proposals on members.
In the event that the government or ICTU tries to impose the proposals under the new Croke Park deal on TUI members, the union has voted to ballot for industrial action including strike action.
Over 80 percent of TUI members, made up of post-primary teachers and higher education lecturers, voted to reject the proposals under the new agreement in the union’s first ballot last month.
Today the union proposed that should the government move to impose any change to conditions already rejected by members of TUI in the democratic ballot of members, members will immediately desist from participating in any or all of the following:
Croke Park discussions
School development planning
School self evaluation
Half in/Half out meetings
Any or all teacher-based assessments
Speaking to TheJournal.ie this evening Deputy General Secretary of the TUI Annette Dolan said it was now a matter of waiting for the outcome of other ballots to get an overview of members’ opinions.
Quinn is due to speak at the TUI conference in Galway tomorrow and Dolan said she expects he will be “received courteously” by members. She said the union always “made a point of engaging in a dialogue with the minister”.
It is the first completed ballot on the deal.
The TUI represents just under 15,000 second level teachers and lecturers.
Traditionally, if a majority of ICTU unions accept a deal like Croke Park, those who reject it abide by the majority vote.
However, the TUI executive has decided not to be bound by an overall vote in favour.
TUI President Gerard Craughwell said this could pose a huge problem for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions – particularly if other unions opposed to the Croke Park extension plans follow the TUI line and refuse to accept the majority vote.
The proposals in the Croke Park deal are aimed at reducing the public sector pay bill by an additional €1 billion over the next three years.
The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) will ballot its 17,500 members on the deal in the coming weeks.
The union’s standing committee said the proposals from the Labour Relations Commission would worsen working conditions for teachers while also cutting their pay.
“The proposals come at a time when second-level schools are reeling from the impact of the education cutbacks including significant reductions in staffing and resources,” the union said in a statement this evening.
Senior members said public sector workers had already taken a cumulative pay cut of 14 per cent in recent years, while delivering “substantial” savings under the terms of the original Croke Park Agreement.
The union added that the supervision and substitution allowance – worth about €1,800 a year, which would be abolished under the proposals – would have “a disproportionate negative impact on low-paid part-time and temporary teachers” who had come rely on that money.
It also claimed that some aspects of the deal had yet to be clarified, and that it could not recommend the deal to its members while some of its impact remained unknown.
The union has become the sixth, of the 15 public service unions, to publicly recommend a No vote.
The INTO, which represents primary teachers, did not issue a recommendation; the other main secondary union, the TUI, and the university lecturers’ union IFUT are both seeking a No vote.
Howlin to public sector workers: If you swallow hard and vote yes, we’ll not be coming back for more
Would you trust this man to deliver?
The deal, if passed, will come into effect from July and run until 2016.
“If you consider this (and) swallow hard – I know it’s not easy – and vote for this, we’ll not be coming back again and we can plan our recovery over the next three years,” he said.
He added that “hopefully the next time we sit down to discuss pay and conditions with public servants, it will be on the basis of a recovered economy and we can talk about improvements in pay and conditions. That’s our objective.”
Trade unions and the Government will today begin considering the new agreement, when they receive the finalised copy of the draft deal from the LRC.
The controversial agreement will see pay cuts of 10% for those earning more than €185,000 and 5.5% for those earning more than €65,000 a year, as well as longer working hours and lower overtime payments.
The Government is seeking to save €1 billion over the next three years in a new deal on reform and productivity with the public service unions.
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin yesterday invited the unions to talks designed to achieve, by agreement, further substantial savings in the public service pay and pensions bill. The Government is hoping accord can be reached by early in the new year.
Unions expect one of the main changes the Government will propose is longer working hours for staff with no additional pay. Other issues such as increments, premium pay rates and possibly reforms to existing grade structures could be on the agenda for the discussions.
Senior higher-paid staff who already work flexible hours could face cuts in their overall pay levels. Earlier this year, the Health Service Executive proposed staff should work two additional hours per week for the next three years.
The Government said yesterday the guarantees set out in the Croke Park agreement, no further cuts in core pay and no compulsory redundancies, would remain in force.
Government sources emphasised that savings of €1 billion in the pay and pensions bill were required by the end of 2015 “to meet the fiscal challenges” demanded by the bailout programme.
No precise details
However, the Government side declined to spell out precisely the nature of the reforms to work practices and the new productivity measures it would be seeking.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said the Government would be seeking to secure “a significant advance” on the workplace change already delivered by public servants, and “a large sustainable additional fall in the cost of public service delivery in the period to 2015”.
“The Government is determined to meet its fiscal consolidation targets and reduce its deficit to less than 3 per cent by 2015. The gross public service pay and pensions bill accounts for 35 per cent of overall spending in 2012. On this basis, the Government considers that it is fair that it should contribute broadly one-third of the substantial expenditure consolidation that will be necessary over the next three years,” said the department.
It added that if the public service pay and pensions bill was to make the necessary contribution to the consolidation in expenditure necessary up to 2015, a new deal, setting out a new agenda for change and productivity, was necessary.
“The Government will also be seeking to secure an additional substantial reduction in the cost of public service delivery, including in 2013, through this process. We want to secure a significant evolution on the workplace change already delivered . . .” it said.
The public services committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is to meet today to consider the Government’s invitation to talks on a deal. The largest public service union, Impact, will argue this should be accepted. Other unions were more cautious.
In a letter to Impact branches yesterday, union general secretary Shay Cody said members would benefit from an extension of Croke Park protections in light of dark forecasts.“The union will go into any talks with the objective of protecting members’ pay and pensions against further cuts . . . Achieving success will mean agreeing to measures that cut the public service pay bill in other ways.”
General secretary of the Civil Public and Services Union Eoin Ronayne expressed concern over whether lower-paid workers could achieve further cost savings.
Mr Kenny voiced the need to increase pressure to secure savings from the agreement at a meeting this afternoon.
He told the body that while the Government remains committed to the Agreement, it is facing extraordinarily difficult choices to meet its 2013 spending targets.
Mr Kenny said delays in reforms were not acceptable, and the issues around allowances must be brought to a swift conclusion.
He said the negotiations with the hospital consultants was an example of what could be achieved and the same principle had to be applied across the public sector.
Radical reforms in the local government sector will be brought to Government shortly.
It is understood that no financial target will be available until after further engagement at sectoral level.
Mr Howlin said that he indicated on 18 September that one category amounting to 88 allowances would be looked at with a view to eliminating them under the Croke Park Agreement.
The full list has not been released, but it is thought to include a Gaeltacht allowance for nurses in Irish-speaking areas and a Locomotive allowance for senior gardaí who use their private cars for work.
They are set be abolished by the end of February.
“This is core pay, breach of Croke Park [Agreement], and whatever we have to do to protect our members’ pay we will do so,” he said.
“If people want to consolidate those allowances into pay, which we asked for many years ago, well then we’ll have that discussion.
“But we will not be getting into negotiations where we see the elimination or further cuts in people’s salary, that’s not where we are and we won’t be there.”
TRADE UNIONS are set to oppose the latest effort by the Government to eliminate a wide range of public service allowances.
Following last month’s climbdown on reforming allowances, the Government has reopened the issue and is seeking to eliminate more than 80 allowances currently paid to serving staff across the public service.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said yesterday that it wanted management in different parts of the public service to engage with trade unions to eliminate allowances for serving staff in cases where there was no business case for paying them to new personnel.
Alternatively, it said, management should seek to review allowances if this would present greater value for the taxpayer.
Last month the Government said it would no longer pay about 180 allowances to new personnel. It has now said it wants to eliminate 88 of these for existing staff as a priority.
Separately, Taoiseach Enda Kenny will today preside over a crucial meeting with the body overseeing the implementation of the Croke Park agreement to consider proposals aimed at securing further savings under the deal.
Mr Kenny will chair a meeting in his department at which Mr Howlin will present an assessment of potential savings across all 15 Government departments drawn up by Ministers over recent weeks.
There has been speculation in recent days that the Government has signalled to union leaders that it wanted to hold discussions on some form of an extension to the current Croke Park agreement.
Asked last night whether it had indicated to unions that there might be new talks on the agreement, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said: “No comment.”
Details of the proposals for escalating savings under the Croke Park agreement drawn up by various Ministers have not been made known.
However, it is understood that the Department of Health and the Department of Education have been looking at the issue of seeking staff to work additional hours. This would fall outside the scope of the existing Croke Park agreement.
Details of the Government’s plans on public service allowances emerged yesterday after a letter on the issue drawn up by the secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Robert Watt, was given to health service unions.
The department confirmed that it had sent similar letters to each government department.
Mr Howlin last night said he favoured using a dedicated fast-track arbitration process in relation to the new proposals to eliminate allowances.
Last night Siptu vice-president Patricia King said many of the allowances went back decades and were considered part of core pay. She said while the union would be open to consolidating allowances into pay, as proposed for example in the education sector, it would oppose attacks on low-paid staff.
Paul Bell of Siptu’s health division said the proposals on allowances could place staff on a collision course with the Government.
This follows recent reports of large sums being paid out in what the Department of Education regards as unapproved payments by colleges.
Mr Quinn said he had secured Government agreement for changes to the Universities Act, which would strike a balance between university autonomy and protecting the economy at a time of crisis.
Between 2005 and 2009, around €7.5 million was paid in additional allowances by various universities to senior members of staff.
Trinity College Dublin has recently refused to implement a binding Labour Court finding under the provisions of that agreement.
We cannot underestimate what a defining moment it was for this Government when Brendan Howlin stood up and formally admitted what everyone has known for weeks: that the Government was chickening out on cutting some of the crazy allowances paid to those who work for the bankrupt Government of this bankrupt country.
It wasn’t as if Howlin had promised the earth. His modest goal had been to cut a mere five per cent this year from these allowances — extra pay that various people who work for the Government get for everything from underwear to being on their feet.
But even the minister who is supposed to be responsible for cutting public expenditure — now a matter of grave urgency in this country — could not face down the unions in order to cut one euro in 20 from these allowances. The minister whose department apparently harasses other departments on an almost weekly basis about making cuts and efficiencies, when it came to cutting a mere five per cent from what everyone agrees are at least partially anachronistic and ridiculous allowances, couldn’t do it. He bottled it.
He bottled it even though he had the kind of cover to implement cuts that no other minister in this State will ever have, hopefully. The IMF is here and can be blamed for everything.
We have lost our sovereignty, we are bankrupt and being run by foreigners, and still Howlin couldn’t get even five per cent off these allowances. One suspects that even the unions didn’t expect to get away with that. One suspects that the unions were poised to accept at least some trimming of these allowances. But no, virtually nothing. Because when Brendan Howlin looked into it, he discovered it was more complicated than he thought and that it would in fact contravene Croke Park.