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Public sector pay talks run to 3am but no deal reached

ICTU President Kevin Callinan said some progress was made and negotiations remained civil, but the gap between sides may not be bridged.

Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Updated Jun 17th 2022, 11:43 AM

THE GOVERNMENT AND the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) have failed to strike a deal over pay for public sector workers, after negotiations which went on until 3am this morning.

ICTU represents unions such as the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), Fórsa and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).

ICTU President Kevin Callinan said some progress was made and negotiations remained civil, but the gap between sides may not be bridged.

Speaking to RTÉ News, Callinan said: “The terms on offer were not something we felt we could recommend.

He said there was a “significant difference” between the two sides – “I don’t know whether or not that can be bridged, but it certainly can’t be bridged in the circumstances where the other side isn’t prepared to move.

“The ball is still in the government’s court here.”

In a statement to The Journal, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath said that “these were always going to be challenging discussions given the current inflationary backdrop.

“While it is disappointing that the talks have not yet delivered an agreed outcome, I understand the WRC have asked all sides to reflect on their positions and will continue to engage with the parties.

“For government’s part we have been clear that the aim is to reach a mutually acceptable solution to the current challenges – one that strikes the right balance and is both fair and affordable to the taxpayer and to public servants. However, there are obviously limits to what is possible and sustainable given the many expenditure pressures that government faces.”

The talks came after unions triggered a clause within the existing pay deal for public sector workers over rising inflation.

It comes as unions prepare to join nationwide protests about the cost of living crisis.

Garda representative bodies are also partaking in the talks. Antoinette Cunningham, the general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, told RTÉ News the negotiations were “always going to be difficult”.

“We’re not sure if we can achieve what we’re setting out to achieve here but we’ll certainly try very hard,” she said.

The pay talks were convened after the ICTU Public Services Committee invoked a review clause in the current public service agreement, Building Momentum, on foot of high and sustained inflation that wasn’t predicted when the deal was agreed.

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But union negotiators today said the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) had offered pay rises of just 2.5% for the period 2021-2022, despite expected annual inflation of at least 9% over the two-year period.

Another 2.5% was proposed for next year – despite inflation projections of up to twice that figure in 2023 – as Government negotiators sought to extend Building Momentum into a third year.

Callinan said the Government proposals fell far short of projected inflation, and could not credibly have been put to members in union ballots.

He added that they would send a signal to employers across the economy that workers should bear the brunt of large and sustained increases in the cost of home heating, fuel, food, housing, childcare, and other essentials.

“The real-term shortfall between the modest pay increases in the current public service agreement and rising living costs is huge and could yet grow. In 2021, the gap between annualised Building Momentum increases and annualised inflation was 2.15%. If inflation averages 7% this year – and it could well be higher – the 2022 gap would be 6.75%. Who knows what 2023 will bring,” Callinan said.

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