JUNIOR FINANCE MINISTER Brian Hayes has said that salaries of over €100,000 that are paid to workers in the public sector are the “biggest area” that has to be examined by the government.
He was speaking amid the furore over public sector allowances and Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin’s announcement last week that only one of 1,100 allowances that employees in the public service are entitled to will be abolished immediately for all workers.
Howlin’s failure to achieve the €75 million in savings from the review of around 800 allowances has been heavily criticised but Hayes said that last week’s announcement was a “first step”.
Speaking to the Today with Pat Kenny programme on RTÉ Radio, the Minister of State said that the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Howlin were now asking ministers to submit plans on how pay rolls costs could be reduced further.
As a very first step the government have taken the decisions to cancel the 180 allowances of the thousand odd for new entrants but we haven’t precluded the possibility that allowances will be cut for existing people in the public sector.
Hayes said that criticism of Howlin’s announcement last week was “utterly unfair” and insisted that “all issues will be on the table” when it comes to discussions about further pay roll savings.
He also pointed out savings that have already been made.
A totality of €2 billion has been taken out of the public sector pay and pension bill as a result of the measures since 2008 and the measures that Brendan Howlin is introducing now.
“We do need to make more progress on this, I accept that,” he later added while also suggesting that many of the allowances for lower-paid workers are part of their core pay and should be protected.
“The great majority of people who are on very average pay in the public sector and are obtaining these allowances, it’s really part of their core pay,” he said.
Hayes said that the government was “stuck” with the Croke Park Agreement negotiated by the previous administration but said that should not preclude it from examining some of the biggest salaries in the public sector.
He continued: “If we get this new package which goes then to the implementation group within Croke Park I think that will be progress. But then we have to look at the question of top pay.
Now of course if someone is on €100,000 they are bringing home half of that because of the increase in USC (Universal Social Charge), and because of the increase in tax and because of the reductions at the top level of pay.
But there is… I think the biggest area where we do need to look at is the area of people over €100,000, there’s no doubt about that.
Hayes comments were welcomed by the Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald who on the same programme said that her party had been raising the issue of the highest paid in the public sector “for the past three years”.
She said that many of the lower-paid had come in for “huge criticism, huge scrutiny, a lot of them people on very modest incomes” adding that the guiding principle of the whole process had to be “equity”.
Though Hayes agreed with this he pointed out that not all savings would be made by targeting the highest paid, saying that they made up about 7,000 people out of 290,000 working in the public sector.