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High-earning public servants to have pay restored, as Varadkar admits timing 'isn't the best'

The public servants due to have their pay restored include medical consultants, members of the judiciary and some CEOs.

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File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Irina Shatilova

Updated Jun 22nd 2022, 9:00 AM

HIGH EARNERS IN the public service are due to have their pay restored to pre-austerity levels in July.

The public servants due to have their pay restored include medical consultants, certain members of the judiciary, and CEOs of State bodies.

Financial Emergency (Fempi) legislation was used to cut the pay of public servants as part of the austerity measures introduced following the financial crash of 2008.

Salary rates up to €150,000, which account for 99% of the public service, have already been fully restored.

Legislation passed by the Oireachtas in 2017, supported by Government and opposition parties including Sinn Féin and Labour, provided for completion of restoration for those earning over €150,000 to take place no later than 1 July 2022.

The number of public servants who are due pay restoration next month is estimated to be approximately 4,000 – over 90% of whom are medical consultants who will receive increases ranging from 1.7% to 10%.

Other posts impacted include some CEOs, judges and senior civil servants. It is understood that this pay restoration will cost around €30 million for the remainder of 2022.

A Government source noted that in advance of the restoration date, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath sought legal advice to establish whether the Government had any discretion in relation to the remaining restoration.

The legal advice received confirmed it was not permissible to amend or delay the terms of restoration either within the current legislation or by means of further legislation.

It is understood the legal advice indicated the Government had no basis not to proceed with the restoration. On this basis, the restoration will take place on 1 July in accordance with the law.

Speaking to reporters in Mayo this morning, the Taoiseach said 90% of those receiving the pay bump are consultant doctors. pointing out that opposition parties, including Sinn Féin supported FEMPI.

The pay restoration is the “fulfillment of that”.

“Legally, that is the situation – there’s no circumventing of legal obligations on government to fulfill by law what the government has to do”, said the Taoiseach.

‘Tone deaf’

Louise O’Reilly, Sinn Féin’s Spokesperson on Workers’ Rights, Enterprise, Trade, and Employment, said she “would like to see that legal advice”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, O’Reilly said the timing of the pay restoration is “tone deaf” as many people on lower incomes are working “40 hours a week and still cannot afford to feed their families”.

She accused the Government of “delaying pay rises for low paid workers, while at the same time saying they have no option to delay this”.

O’Reilly said that about 70% of healthcare workers due to receive a bonus for their work during the Covid-19 pandemic are yet to get this payment. She noted that “people on extremely high incomes are going to see an increase” while “tens of thousands of healthcare workers” wait for a bonus first flagged back in 2020.

O’Reilly said she plans to propose legislation in the coming weeks that would see the Low Pay Commission become the Living Wage Commission, in a bid to implement supports that would help people struggling to pay their bills.

Speaking later on the same programme, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar said the Government does not publish its legal advice as a rule but that he would explain its contents.

We had a look at our options because we knew this would be controversial and we knew that it wasn’t coming at the best time, although there never is a good time to do these things. So we did look at the options, the options were passing a new law to further delay pay restoration for this group of people.

“And the advice was very clear – that [Fempi] legislation that was used to cut the pay of public servants was a financial emergency provision. There is no longer a financial emergency, we have record levels of employment, public finances are in good order.

“We would have to go into court and make the argument that it was right to fully reverse the pay cuts for a school principal or somebody working in the passport office or a garda inspector, but that it was okay to single out doctors,” Varadkar said.

The Tánaiste added that O’Reilly voted in favour of the 2017 legislation which dealt with reversing public sector pay cuts for all public servants.

“That’s been done except for this final group; 90% of whom, by the way, are consultants, they’re doctors. They’re people who are hard to recruit; they’re the emergency consultants who are doing rounds this morning.

“They’re the obstetricians who did C-sections during the night; they’re the people who we asked to do more scoliosis surgeries to get on top of that waiting list,” Varadkar stated.

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Public servants who benefit from Fempi restoration are not eligible for further pay increases in the year of restoration.

The unwinding of Fempi has been underway since 2015 and this final instalment effectively brings the curtain down on the Fempi era of pay cuts in the public service, which began in 2009 with the first series of public sector pay reductions and comprised four separate pieces of legislation.

Ministers and office holders do not benefit from this restoration.

The Government has signalled that public sector pay talks may resume shortly. Negotiations at the Workplace Relations Commission ended last Friday without agreement after trade unions said the Government’s offer of wage increases fell far short of inflation.

Some members of the opposition have called for an Emergency Budget to be passed sooner than the October Budget to help those struggling with the cost of living, but Varadkar said this is not likely to happen.

With reporting by Christina Finn

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