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Public Sector Pay and Conditions: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 800 No. 4

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Public Sector Pay and Conditions: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

  The following motion was moved by Deputy Sean Fleming on Tuesday, 23 April 2013:

That Dáil Éireann:
notes the:
— rejection by public sector employees of the Labour Relations Commission’s proposals on pay and conditions;

— failure of the Government to disclose all relevant information concerning the draft agreement;

— difficulties that the proposed changes to conditions of employment would have had for many families;

— inconsistency of treatment of different categories of public sector employees under the Government’s proposals; and

— disproportionate impact that the proposed measures would have had on the pay and earnings of frontline and shift workers;
recognises the:
— huge sacrifices made by public sector employees and pensioners in recent years;

— ongoing savings being delivered by the current Croke Park agreement;

— significant benefit to the economy and society that the absence of industrial action in the public sector has achieved;

— need to ensure that further reductions in the overall public sector pay and pensions bill occur in a fair and structured manner; and

— importance of a shared commitment to reform by all stakeholders in the delivery of public services; and
calls for:
— immediate engagement by the Government with public sector employees with a view to obtaining a balanced agreement that can secure widespread support amongst public sector employees;

— confirmation that the Government will not legislate for an across the board 7 per cent cut in public sector pay; and

— a commitment to full disclosure of all relevant facts prior to the conclusion of a new agreement on public sector pay.

    Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

— that public servants have made a substantial contribution towards the necessary reductions achieved in public expenditure since 2008, including through the unilateral imposition by the then Government of the pension levy and pay reductions applied under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts 2009; and

— the ongoing contribution made to cost savings in the public service pay bill and to improving productivity by public servants under the terms of the Public Service Agreement 2010 - 2014, and the related agreements made under its auspices;
welcomes the contribution made by public servants to economic recovery including through the absence of industrial action;

— the Government on its early and open engagement with public servants and their union representatives on the difficult but necessary actions required to restore the public finances; and

— representatives of public service employers, unions and the Labour Relations Commission on the development of a balanced set of proposals that would deliver €1 billion in savings on the public service pay bill by 2015;
— that the Labour Relations Commission’s proposals protected the basic salary rates of low and middle income earners in the public service while applying progressive reductions to the remuneration of higher paid public servants, and provided for a negotiated and equitable approach to securing the necessary savings in the public service pay bill; and

— the proud record of the public service in introducing and implementing work-life balance arrangements and that public service employers continue to be committed to equality of opportunity in its employment practices;
agrees that, in view of public servants’ non-acceptance of the measures proposed by the Labour Relations Commission, it will now be necessary for the Government to decide on and secure alternative measures that will deliver the additional pay and pensions savings of €300 million for 2013 and €1 billion by 2015 to meet public expenditure targets; and

further welcomes the Government’s request to the Labour Relations Commission to explore and report back to Government on whether the basis for a negotiated agreement exists between the parties.”

- (Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I call Deputy Ross. With whom is the Deputy sharing time?

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross I am sharing time with Deputies Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, Joan Collins and Stephen Donnelly.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett There is only ten minutes available.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross That is two minutes each.

I would like to put this particular agreement in the context of what I witnessed today, which was a meeting of the Bank of Ireland AGM where a great deal of public money is going into people's salaries. Unfortunately, the Minister for Finance, on behalf of the Government, voted not just to keep salaries very high but to increase at least one salary. The new governor of the Bank of Ireland was not given €394,000 per annum as was given to his predecessor, which is about €8,000 per week, but a package of €492,000 per annum, which is almost a 25% increase on the governor's pay last year. One could not help feeling sympathy and that there was justice in any resistance from a public servant today when they see themselves being asked, on comparatively very low pay, to make a very substantial sacrifice when the same Government is prepared to stand over excessive and obscene pay and to allow it increase in other areas.

I have an uneasy feeling about these centralised agreements, and I have an uneasy feeling about Croke Park II because only 45% of SIPTU, the biggest union, voted. That means only one in five of those people followed their union's and their leader's call.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly The reality is that the dynamic in the overall political situation has changed utterly since the rejection of Croke Park II because what we had was the Minister of State's Government threatening public sector workers to cut off their own heads or it would take the pay from them. They stood their ground and called the Government's bluff and in much the same way as it is trying to intimidate home owners by saying, "Give us all the details of your property or we will come and take the property tax from you", those people will stand their ground also.

The reason people rejected Croke Park II in such large numbers is that contrary to propaganda the overwhelming majority of public sector workers are relatively low paid. Already, they have experienced cuts in their pay of over 20% in recent years and their financial commitments were based on previous salaries. They simply cannot give any more. The idea being put forward that the unions can somehow go into talks and negotiate an alternative solution is lunacy and the sooner the Government and, more importantly, the trade union leaders realise that, the better because there is no more left to give. The Government can dress it up and say it is only €300,000 or €1 billion and that it will get it a different way. There is no other way to get it.

The real lesson to be learned from this vote is that the opposition has been clearly demonstrated. The mask is down. The Government is not as powerful as it was shown to be but that opposition should link up with the growing opposition throughout the country to the home tax and the other movement against austerity. That will teach the Minister's Government a lesson because in this centenary year of 1913, trade unionists and public sector workers have learned that the great no longer look so great.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace Last week when I addressed the Minister, Deputy Howlin, in the House I pointed out that women were being disproportionately affected by Croke Park II and that it was fitting that Croke Park II was being buried the same week as Margaret Thatcher was being buried. The Minister took exception to that. He appears to believe there are misconceptions in the public domain in terms of how damaging the Croke Park II proposals are for public sector workers. I want to outline how bad this so-called agreement would have been for workers, especially women, which illustrates the reason the proposals were so comprehensively rejected.

The 24/7 Frontline Services Alliance commissioned an assessment of the pay cuts proposed in Croke Park II, which provided numerous examples of the negative effect on front-line workers of increased working hours without additional pay, reduced overtime pay and allowances, and the freezing of increments.

A psychiatric nurse and a staff nurse, both on gross salaries of less than €50,000, would have seen reductions in their income of over 11%. A paramedic on a salary of €36,700 would have faced a reduction of nearly 10%. A care assistant on a gross salary of just over €40,000 would have seen a 9% reduction in income. That report contrasts those examples with the way a Senator on a gross salary of €65,600 would have been affected by Croke Park II. The Senator stood to lose 0.9% of income.

According to the equality audit commissioned by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, the proposed loss of access to flexible working arrangements as staff progress into senior management positions would have disproportionately and negatively impacted on women. Women are already significantly under-represented at senior management levels in the public sector above the higher executive officer grade. The audit found that this proposal will limit opportunities for women and men with caring responsibilities to seek and secure promotion and that it will copper-fasten vertical gender segregation and gender inequality in the public sector.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins Deputy Ross put his contribution in the context of what happened today in the Bank of Ireland. That was an important point to make when one considers the vast wealth and wages of a certain section of society and the relentless way the Government is going after ordinary workers who already gave a great deal to the economy.

When does no mean no to this Government? When will it understand that when people say "No", that is what they mean? This was a decisive rejection of the Government's attempt to take €1 billion out of the pockets of public sector workers. It was a decisive two to one rejection. Sixteen unions decisively voted "No" yet the Government is trying to say this was some sort of a mistake on the part of the workers and that it might be able to get them to vote again. It should accept the result and stop pretending it was due to a low turnout or that people were confused and therefore it should make them vote again. The workers were not confused. They were clear in what they were doing. Two weeks ago the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, said in this Chamber that he would take 7% out of their pay packets but workers in the public sector said, "We will not be turkeys voting for Christmas. If you want to take this money, come and get it. We will not hand it over to you easily". That was an insult to the intelligence of public sector workers who voted "No". They have already taken a 14% to 20% cut in pay because they know it is working people and the poor who have borne the brunt of the crisis. They know that the very wealthy and the elite have walked away scot free. The rich list report indicated that their wealth has increased by €3.6 billion up to €66 billion in the past year on the back of austerity, and the Government is still going after public sector workers. They know austerity is not working, and they know that taking money from low to moderate income families will cut demand and economic activity, which will affect jobs and result in losses. How many more reasons does the Government need? People are peeved. They have the universal social charge, the pension levy, the household tax, the property tax, water taxes, services are being affected etc. Enough is enough.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly Croke Park II was rejected because it is a failed construct. I have no issue with the target to reduce public expenditure by €300 million but I object to Croke Park II, which aims to take it wholly and exclusively from pay and other remuneration. Any proposal to reduce expenditure must comply with three principles, the first of which is that public sector workers must be allowed find the targets within waste and other non-pay areas, and we are all aware that there are many such areas.

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