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Howlin: It's in personal interests of public workers to accept pay cuts

As he prepares for Kieran Mulvey to sound the death knell on pay talks, Brendan Howlin says national solvency is good for everyone.

"If you’re swimming across the river, most people die in the last few yards because you’re exhausted and you've expended your energy so much."

PUBLIC EXPENDITURE MINISTER Brendan Howlin has insisted that it is in the personal interests of public workers to accept pay cuts – as they would stand to benefit if the country regains its financial independence.

The comments, in an exclusive interview with TheJournal.ie, come as Howlin prepares to meet with Labour Relations Commission chairman Kieran Mulvey – amid some suggestions that a revised deal with public unions on cut pay and conditions may still be possible.

Though the future of a deal remains uncertain, Howlin affirmed that the Budget for 2013 had incorporated effective pay cuts of €300 million – and said it was still necessary to achieve those cuts if Ireland was to get back on its feet.

Asked if this was tantamount to telling workers that a pay cut was in the national interest, however, Howlin said workers should see the lessening of their conditions as a short-term offering for long-term personal good.

“No, it’s in the personal need, and in the interest of every citizen of Ireland that we return to solvency; that we return to normal market funding; that we are a growing economy creating jobs,” Howlin said.

Every citizen has a personal vested interest in that.

The minister suggested that a failure to cut €300 million from this year’s pay bill – with a total of €1 billion in savings by 2015 – would mean having to find further savings in areas like health, social welfare and education.

“I’m not in the business of cutting anybody wages or worsening anybody’s working patterns, but it’s an economic necessity. Just as we have cut social welfare in the past [...] just as we’ve reduced expenditure in a whole range of areas, we have to reduce the public pay bill.

“I’m not upbeat or positive in terms of having to do this,” he added, “but the problem is that it needs to be done… The government will have to govern, and we set out the budgetary parameters for this year, and we have to live within them.”

The minister said, however, that he understood the reasons why workers had rejected the Croke Park 2 deal in ballots in March and April.

“They were rejected in a ballot, and I understand. People, when they’re asked to worsen their own terms and conditions, it’s [a] very difficult thing to vote for,” he said – though insisting that it was important for the government to stick to its cost-cutting plans.

Referring to the progress Ireland had already made in bridging its Budget deficit, he said:

I’ve used the analogy of the swimmer. You know, if you’re swimming across the river, most people die in the last few yards because you’re exhausted and you’ve expended your energy so much.

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

More: ‘Many an important economic issue resolved over a mug of tea’

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Gavan Reilly

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