The Public Services Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has expressed concerns that the time available to negotiate, draft and ratify a successor public service pay agreement, ahead of the expiration of the current PSSA (Public Service Stability Agreement) on 31st December, is running short.
Unions met this morning to discuss progress to date on the development of negotiations with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER). Kevin Callinan, general secretary of Fórsa and chair of the Public Services Committee (PSC) advised unions that there is currently no basis for a negotiation with the Government on a new public service pay agreement.
Union leaders said any agreement must be sufficiently robust to last until the worst of the Covid crisis has passed.
He expressed disappointment at the lack of progress made in recent months with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) despite discussions with the DPER minister, Michael McGrath TD, in July. Mr Callinan told union leaders that a scheduled meeting with DPER this week had been postponed because officials had yet to consult with the Minister to establish the basis for any negotiations.
Mr Callinan said: “The delay sends a signal that should be a cause of concern to all parties, including the Government. There is now a real possibility that we will find ourselves, perhaps unintentionally, without an agreement at the end of the year.
“The absence of an agreement would make for a very difficult industrial relations environment, which would itself be complicated further by the lingering Covid crisis. I don’t believe that’s in anybody’s best interests,” he said.
The absence of an agreement would make for a very difficult industrial relations environment complicated further by the lingering Covid crisis.
PSC representatives shared their concerns about the very short time available to complete a new agreement, and ensuring any new deal was capable of addressing a wide variety of sectoral concerns. Union leaders also said that any agreement must be sufficiently robust to last until the worst of the Covid crisis has passed.
In a statement yesterday Mr Callinan said the basis of negotiations for a new public service agreement would need to address specific austerity measures, include an acceptable approach to pay, and provide a clear path to resolving particular long-standing issues within public service grades, groups and categories, ensuring an ultimate resolution in each case. He said these priorities had been outlined to DPER officials as the basic requirements of any negotiation.
The current Programme for Government commits to a successor agreement to the PSSA, which sets pay and working conditions for staff across the civil and public service, including voluntary hospitals and other ‘section 38’ bodies. Public service pay agreements are also applied in non-commercial State agencies.
Worker safety warning
The PSC also issued a warning to the Government today (Friday) that essential workers need greater legislative protection from Covid-19 and are facing substantial risks of infection in order to provide services to the public.
Unions warned that essential public service workers, including frontline healthcare workers, education staff, and other public service staff, face ongoing and substantial risks of infection while providing services to the public during the pandemic.
The committee said a lack of oversight by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) was putting these workers at greater risk, and restated the call for the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to amend regulation 224, a measure which would ensure that Covid infections in the workplace are a matter to be investigated by the HSA.
The measure was also recommended in the final report of the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response (recommendation 5).