Public service pay talks have intensified this week, with formal negotiations taking place in the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).
In an update to Fórsa branches today (14th June), the union’s general secretary Kevin Callinan said his focus was on addressing the deficit between the modest pay increases in the Building Momentum agreement and the current shortfall in living standards caused by unexpectedly high and persistent inflation.
He said that, while no figures had yet been tabled by either side, this shortfall was substantial and could yet grow.
“In 2021, the gap between annualised Building Momentum increases and annualised inflation was 2.15%. If inflation averages 7% this year – and it could be higher – the 2022 gap would be 6.75%,” he said.
The talks are also discussing a possible extension to the current agreement. This was tabled by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) after the minister said the Government wanted certainty over the public service pay bill at a time of economic and geopolitical volatility.
Minister McGrath has also indicated that he would prefer to conclude an agreement in advance of October’s Budget.
Minister McGrath has also indicated that he would prefer to conclude an agreement in advance of October’s Budget. Kevin said the union team was willing to try to achieve this, but said it could not be a substitute for addressing the 2021-2022 living standards deficit.
“The current talks will fail if this deficit is not adequately addressed. We are working in good faith to avoid such an outcome, which would fundamentally destabilise Building Momentum and make impossible an extension of the agreement into 2023,” he said.
Kevin added that, despite some media speculation, the WRC-brokered public service talks are not discussing wider cost-of-living measures or tax and benefit changes. Cost of living measures have been under discussion in a separate process in the Labour-Employer Economic Forum (LEEF), which is Ireland’s main social dialogue forum.
Unions have received an explicit acceptance from the Government side that the current public service talks are entirely separate from the LEEF process, where little concrete progress has so far been made.
Unions have received an explicit acceptance from the Government side that the current public service talks are entirely separate from the LEEF process, where little concrete progress has so far been made. ICTU intends to table specific proposals in the coming days and the Government response will give an indication of the potential to reach agreement on an improved ‘social wage.’
But Kevin warned that tax cuts would be incompatible with improved or cheaper public services.
“Fórsa has said improvements to the social wage will require increased short-term and medium-term spending in areas like health, education, childcare, housing and public transport. I do not believe that significant cuts in tax are compatible with this, and, therefore, the union side is not in any negotiations about tax cuts,” he said.
Fórsa triggered the Building Momentum review clause in March. The Government later indicated its willingness to go beyond the pay terms in Building Momentum, though it put no figure on this.