A realistic and acceptable approach to a new public service agreement does not mean ruling out pay improvements, according to Ireland’s largest public service trade union.
Speaking at Fórsa’s virtual national conference today (Thursday), general secretary Kevin Callinan said any successor to the current public service pay deal, which expires in six weeks’ time, would have to be realistic in the context of an extremely challenging economic and fiscal situation. But he said this didn’t mean ruling out pay improvements over the lifetime of a deal.
“All the economic projections point to a rapid economic and fiscal bounce-back once the Covid situation stabilises, and we have cause to hope that will start to happen in the coming months,” he said.
Kevin said the increase in private savings during the pandemic pointed to a crisis of confidence at the root of Ireland’s economic difficulties. “This is further evidence of the need for Government to reject an ‘austerity’ approach, which will sap confidence from our economic biosphere.
“If we give people hope, we will also give them confidence to spend and participate in the economy and in their communities. This is the lifeblood that can quickly rejuvenate businesses – be they large, medium or small. It’s the route to rapid employment, economic and fiscal recovery, which must be grasped in all sectors of the economy – public, private and community,” he said.
If we give people hope, we will also give them confidence to spend and participate in the economy and in their communities.
In his report on recent exploratory talks between unions and senior Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) officials, Kevin said the engagements had intensified significantly over the last ten days.
“It’s still not possible to say with confidence that Fórsa and other unions will be able to put a PSSA successor to ballot in the near future. But there have been focussed and dedicated sessions on the issues outstanding from the Haddington Road Agreement, the potential shape of a sectoral bargaining element in any new deal, dispute resolution and service stability issues, and modernisation and flexibility,” he said.
He added that, following the Covid-19 emergency, unions were not defensive about the flexibility agenda. “In the talks, I have been able to point to a magnificent display of commitment, flexibility, hard work and agility in the provision of public services
- In our health service – including community and mental health services – in the heat of the pandemic and often at extreme personal risk to a range of health workers
- In social protection, Revenue, and other civil service departments where hundreds of thousands of new income and business supports were implemented and delivered virtually overnight
- In schools, where a difficult and potentially dangerous September return to classrooms was managed and delivered with a determination to overcome the obstacles
- In local authority services like water, libraries and civil defence, which placed themselves at the heart of the community Covid response
- And in the largely seamless way that services were maintained – and often expanded – even as tens of thousands of workers were despatched to work at home, often without adequate equipment or in the most difficult of situations.”
Fórsa conference delegates were considering a motion on jobs and pay that called for:
- The maintenance of State-funded income supports at levels that can sustain individuals and families
- Job-creating State investment in infrastructure, climate action, and high-quality public services
- And business supports to support employment, which must be linked to decent standards and workers’ rights.
Kevin said the prospect of entering 2021 without a public service agreement in place was a huge challenge for the Government and those who depend on the stability, sustainability and quality of public services.
“History has taught us that the absence of a public service agreement means uncertainty at best, and chaos at worst. Fórsa doesn’t want to focus on difficulties and disputes. Instead, we want to continue to step up to the challenges in front of the public service in these extraordinary times.
The prospect of entering 2021 without a public service agreement in place is a huge challenge for the Government and those who depend on the stability, sustainability and quality of public services.
“Our ambition is to maintain the momentum we’ve achieved in 2020, and to sustain and acknowledge this spirit of community and commitment to delivery – a spirit that has cast our public services in a new and positive light – and apply it to the big challenges ahead,” he said
Those challenges included: “Keeping schools open – but also addressing the deficits that arose for children during the crisis and, indeed, before the crisis; continuing the fight against Covid-19 – and preparing for the distribution of vaccines; Rebuilding our economy and society in the wake of the pandemic, while negotiating Brexit; and making the best of the opportunities presented by the EU’s Next Generation recovery fund and seven-year multiannual financial framework, doe to come into force next year.”