Building Momentum: A New Public Sector Agreement FAQs

Building Momentum: A New Public Sector Agreement

Your questions answered

 

Last updated: 13th January 2021

Read the full text of the proposed agreement HERE.

 

Contents

What is the duration of the agreement?
Has Fórsa taken a position on the proposed agreement?
What are the pay terms?
Do the pay improvements apply to allowances?
What about part-time workers, job-sharers, etc?
What is the ‘sectoral bargaining fund’?
What are the Haddington Road issues?
How will the ‘Haddington Road hours’ be addressed?
Are the ‘72 hours’ introduced for SNAs covered?
How will the other Haddington Road issues be addressed?
Are CORU fees covered by the agreement?
Will the proposals lead to more outsourcing?
What modernisation and reform measures are in the package?
Is there a ‘no strike’ clause?
What about craft workers?
What happens if the economic and fiscal situation changes?
What are the implications for public service pensioners?
What happens if the proposed agreement is rejected?
What happens next?
Ask a question

 

What is the duration of the agreement?

It would be a two-year agreement which, if ratified, would run from 1st January 2021 until 31st December 2022. This is shorter than usual and, if the deal is ratified, Fórsa expects that negotiations on a successor agreement would begin in the early summer of 2022.

 

Has Fórsa taken a position on the proposed agreement?

Ultimately Fórsa members will decide whether or not the union will back acceptance of the package. This will be done through a national ballot (see ‘what happens next?’ below). In the meantime, the union’s elected National Executive met on 15th December and decided overwhelmingly to recommend acceptance of the proposed new deal.

 

What are the pay terms?

  • 1st October 2021: A general round increase worth 1% of gross pay or €500 a year, whichever is the greater, would kick in one year after the final pay amendment under the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA). The €500 a year floor means those on lower incomes will receive a significantly larger percentage increase than higher paid staff. For example, the percentage increases will be significantly higher for staff on any point of the clerical officer, SNA or general operative scales – and many others too.
  • 1st February 2022: The equivalent of a 1% increase in annualised basic salaries through a ‘sectoral bargaining fund’ (see below).
  • 1st October 2022: A second general round increase worth 1% of gross pay or €500 a year, whichever is the greater. Again, this means those on lower incomes will receive a significantly larger percentage increase than higher paid staff. For example, the percentage increases will be significantly higher for staff on any point of the clerical officer, SNA or general operative scales– and many others too.
  • Higher-paid civil and public servants (who are a final phase of pay restoration in 2021 or 2022) will not get the general round increase in that year. But, if the amount of restoration due is less than the general round increase, they will be paid the balance on the date of the general round increase.

If the proposed agreement is accepted, unions will not be able to lodge ‘cost-increasing’ claims for improvements in pay or conditions during the lifetime of the agreement.

 

Do the pay improvements apply to allowances?

The increases will apply to pensionable allowances.

 

What about part-time workers, job-sharers, etc?

If the proposed agreement is accepted, pay adjustments will be delivered through revised pay scales. Part-time workers and others who don’t work full-time hours will get pro-rata adjustments based on the number of hours they work.

 

What is the ‘sectoral bargaining fund’?

If ratified, the agreement would see the establishment of a ‘sectoral bargaining fund,’ initially worth 1% of basic pensionable pay during the lifetime of the agreement. It’s not possible to increase the allocation by proposing productivity measures. Neither can the process “give rise to unintended cost increasing outcomes.”

This can be used to deal with outstanding adjudications, recommendations, awards and claims that are relevant to specific grades, groups or categories of workers within the various sectors of the public service.

Alternatively, groups could opt to use the available allocation, or part of it, as a sectoral pay round.

The bargaining units (ie, the different grades, groups and categories) are to be agreed between unions and employer representatives by the end of February 2021. Unions and management will then decide how the fund will apply in each bargaining unit no later than the end of March 2021. Management and unions would then agree proposals, which must be submitted to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DEPR) for verification by the end of June 2021. Payment would fall due on 1st February 2022.

It will not be possible to discuss issues that are standard across grades, groups and categories (eg, overtime rates, weekly hours of attendance, leave entitlements, pension arrangements).

If the issue(s) identified for a grade, group or category can’t be fully addressed within the 1% allocation, the parties will have to agree which elements can be implemented within this agreement. Outstanding elements “will fall to be addressed in a future sectoral bargaining fund as part of the next agreement.”

No sectoral or grade-based claims will be allowed outside this process during the lifetime of the agreement.

 

What are the Haddington Road issues?

This section of the proposed agreement relates to certain measures introduced under the 2013 Haddington Road agreement (HRA), which still remain in place. The measures to be addressed under this agreement are additional working hours introduced under the HRA, and overtime and premium payments.

Fórsa insisted that these issues be addressed in the agreement on grounds of equity, as pay cuts for higher earners and other measures introduced under the HRA have been (or are due to be) addressed, while these measures – which fell on middle and lower-earners – did not.

 

How will the ‘Haddington Road hours’ be addressed?

An independent body will be established by the end of March 2021. It will take submissions from management and unions representing the grades concerned, and make recommendations by the end of 2021.

Roll-out of these recommendations will begin within the lifetime of the agreement, with €150 million available to commence implementation of the outcomes (which must be “applied equitably across all affected grades, groups, categories and sectors”) during 2022. This means that, for those affected, working time will start being reduced from next year.

Unions and management representatives will then engage proactively on what’s necessary for the implementation of any remaining recommendations in the context of the 2023 budget estimates (which will be announced in 2022). In effect, any successor to Building Momentum will deal with the implementation of remaining measures.

The proposed agreement cites a range of issues that the independent body must take account of, including the cost and service impact of addressing the HRA hours. These are set out in section four of the proposed agreement.

 

Are the ‘72 hours’ introduced for SNAs covered?

The ‘72 hours’ for special needs assistants (SNAs) were introduced under the 2010 Croke Park agreement, rather than the 2013 Haddington Road agreement. They replaced an existing contractual liability to work twelve days during school holidays.

Fórsa already has a claim for the abolition of the 72 hours lodged in the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). And, while the proposed agreement doesn’t abolish the hours, it does commit the education department to a serious review of the use of the hours, which will open up a wider discussion on the role of SNAs.

Building Momentum requires the education department to consult with Fórsa about the possible updating of the SNA contract, including the appropriate use of the contracted 72 hours. This provides the first opportunity to renegotiate the SNA contract for over 15 years.

Fórsa believes the contract requires modernisation in several areas, as does the obligation to be available for 72 hours for SEN-related duties. This is because the SNA role has changed since 2005, and continues to develop on foot of initiatives like the NCSE review of the SNA scheme, the roll-out of the schools inclusion model and the frontloading of SNA allocations.

The union will seek changes to various elements of the existing contract including minimum qualifications, CPD, training, and professional recognition.

 

How will the other Haddington Road issues be addressed?

The proposed agreement recognises that the HRA issues “are to be addressed and implemented.”

Therefore:
Overtime and premium payments reduced or abolished under the HRA will be fully restored by 1st July 2021. This includes ‘twilight payments’ in the health service. On overtime, the hour of unpaid overtime introduced under the HRA will be abolished as pre-Haddington roads overtime rates resume. The proposed agreement says any costs that arise from this measure must be managed within allocated overtime budgets.

 

Are CORU fees covered by the agreement?

On foot of a union demand, the annual fee health and social are professionals’ registration with CORU was reduced from €295 to €100 under the Haddington Road agreement and subsequent national deals. The €100 cap will remain in place if Building Momentum is accepted. A similar freeze will apply to registration fees in nursing and midwifery.

 

Will the proposals lead to more outsourcing?

Strong protections against outsourcing remain in place. The management side initially sought measures that would have increased the risk of outsourcing and privatisation. But the final text retains existing safeguards. These include requirements on employers to present a ‘business case’ if they want to outsource a service or part of a service, and a requirement to consult with staff representatives. Crucially, employers are forbidden to include labour costs in any business case.

This is a substantial safeguard because discarding the labour cost provision would effectively mean the majority of business cases would support outsourcing and lead to the privatisation of public services – on the basis of minimum wage and rock-bottom workers’ rights – regardless of the impact on service quality and worker protections.

 

What modernisation and reform measures are in the package?

Chapter one of the proposed agreement acknowledges the recent “unprecedented display of commitment, flexibility, hard work and agility in public service provision” and commits the parties to harness this momentum to meet the immediate challenges of 2021 and 2022. It says these include the continuing response to Covid-19, a return to normal delivery of health services, ensuring that schools remain open and addressing challenges that arose for children during the crisis, managing the response to Brexit, establishing the public service as the driver of best practice on remote working, and addressing digitisation.

It sets out measures to harness the potential for technology to improve service delivery, including engagement with new technologies, and streamlined, automated and redesigned processes and procedures, including remote working “where appropriate.” It identifies the need for staff upskilling and retraining as jobs, roles and processes change.

It also sets out measures to improve access to services through reformed work practices, including enabling temporary reassignments where necessary and increasing the movement of staff across the public service where necessary.

And it sets out an implementation and reporting mechanism to ensure delivery of agreed reforms, including through sectoral action plans.

 

Is there a ‘no strike’ clause?

Every public service agreement has included restrictions on industrial action, and Building Momentum is no exception. The agreement sets out a detailed dispute resolution process, including an “industrial peace” clause.

 

What about craft workers

The tool allowance for craft workers will be restored to the 2012 level if the proposed agreement is ratified.

 

What happens if the economic and fiscal situation changes?

Like the current Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA), the proposed new agreement contains a provision to review the terms of the agreement “where the underlying assumptions of the agreement need to be revisited.” However, the union negotiators successfully insisted that PSSA language, which linked this specifically to a worsening economic situation, was deleted. This creates the opportunity to seek a review of the package if the economic situation improves beyond expectations.

 

What are the implications for public service pensioners?

If the proposed agreement is ratified, existing policy on the application of pay increases to civil and public service pensions will continue for the duration of the agreement. In the main, this means that pension payments will be adjusted in line with pay adjustments for serving staff.

However, this will be done in a way that takes account of the fact that, in a small number of cases, pension payments currently exceed parity with pay. This is because pensions were not reduced by the same extent as pay during the last fiscal crisis.

Pensions are adjusted in line with inflation (the Consumer Price Index, or CPI) in the case of the single public service pension scheme, which applies to all civil and public servants who entered public service employment on or after 1st January 2013. This means that the pensions of members of this scheme are not affected by pay movements, including those in the proposed agreement.

 

What happens if the proposed agreement is rejected?

If the proposals are rejected, there will be no public service agreement in place after 31st December 2020. That means that existing protections, which restrict management’s ability to impose workplace and other changes without discussion or agreement, would cease to be in place, as would the strong protections against outsourcing that currently exist. Needless to say, the proposed pay improvements and progress on the Haddington Road hours and other issues would be off the table. The Government might be willing to re-enter talks, but Fórsa negotiators don’t believe it would be possible to agree a better outcome at this time.

 

What happens next?

A national ballot of Fórsa members who would be covered by the agreement will determine whether the union supports acceptance or rejection of the package. Fórsa will be announcing the arrangements for balloting in due course. It’s expected that the ballot will take place first thing in 2021.

The ballot’s closing date will be before 15th February, which is when the ICTU Public Services Committee will accept or reject the package on the basis of aggregated union ballot outcomes. Covid restrictions on travel and assembly, together with the holiday period and increased remote working, led the PSC to agree a longer balloting period than usual.

The ICTU Public Service Committee (PSC) represents all ICTU-affiliated unions with members in the civil and public service. It decides through a weighted aggregate of the outcomes of all the union ballots, which means the voting strength of each union is determined by the number of members it has in the civil and public service.

 

Ask a question

If you have a question about the proposed agreement, please send it by email to helpline@forsa.ie

 

Read the full text of Building Momentum: A New Public Sector Agreement HERE.

 

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