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Sector-specific talks on table as Howlin prepares for defeat on pay deal

The public expenditure minister tells TheJournal.ie that some unions would need a dramatic U-turn – and that the next option is negotiating with unions on an individual basis.

http://youtu.be/iu1LnMLWDkQ

(YouTube: thejournal.ie)

PUBLIC EXPENDITURE MINISTER Brendan Howlin has given the strongest indication yet that the Government will fail in its efforts to reach a revised pay deal for the entire public sector.

In an exclusive interview with TheJournal.ie, Howlin said any deal to govern the pay and conditions of 292,000 public workers would require a major shift in policy from some public unions, who up to now had not shown any willingness to do so.

Though the Labour Relations Commission chairman Kieran Mulvey has been given until next Monday to see if unions could be willing to enter into talks on a revised deal, Howlin has admitted that the prospects of a new all-encompassing deal are unlikely.

Among the ‘Plan B’ options now on the table for the Government is the prospect of dealing with individual unions and industries to negotiate deals specific to those workers – inspired by the limited success of the ‘side deals’ negotiated after the Croke Park 2 proposals were finalised.

“I won’t pretend it’s going to be easy when you’ve had such significant rejection from some,” the minister said, saying some unions had not offered a constructive voice in the previous talks.

“I mean, if you come to a meeting with the LRC or with management, and you say, ‘We’re here to talk, but we’re not giving a cent,’ then there’s no great basis for discussion,” the minister said, saying some public unions had adopted this stance.

So it’s going to be very difficult to imagine that between now and next that they’re all going to suddenly buy into an overarching agreement.

He added: “But one lives in hope.”

Howlin added that Mulvey and his team were now exploring the prospect of a series of deals for workers in specific sectors – a tactic which, if adopted, would mark a radical change in how successive governments have dealt with the thorny issue of public pay.

Previous administrations always sought to negotiate with public unions en masse – albeit when the economic constraints were less tight and the discussion was usually about pay increases, rather than cuts – or to legislate across the board.

Howlin said this option was only one of a number of items being explored by Mulvey, who is to report back on Monday – but again stressed that the government will be forced to act unilaterally to make public pay savings if unions do not agree to specific deals.

-Camera and editing by Paul Hyland

Read: New Monday deadline to reach deal on public sector pay cuts

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Gavan Reilly

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