‘Real pity’ unions rejected public sector pay offer of 8.5% rise over two years, Donohoe says

Forsa union chief Kevin Callinan says opening offer from Government side was ‘extremely disappointing’

Talks intended to produce a new public sector pay deal broke up without agreement in the early hours of Thursday after unions rejected what they described as “extremely disappointing” offers from Government on pay.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe described the rejection of a €2.9 billion public pay offer as a “real pity”. He said the offer would allow for pay increases for public servants of 8.5 per cent over 2½ years, with lower paid workers benefitting to the tune of 12 per cent.

During Wednesday evening’s talks the union side sought basic increases totalling 12.5 per cent for all the workers they represent.

No date for a resumption of the talks was agreed before the parties left the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) at around 3am, with officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform reported to have asked for a short break before any further meetings take place.


In the meantime, the union negotiators briefed representatives of the 19 affiliates to the Public Services Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on Thursday on the offers made and other aspects of the talks to date.

In a statement after the meeting, Kevin Callinan of Fórsa said affiliates had expressed concern that the Government had illustrated a lack of preparedness to complete a sustainable and robust multi-year pay deal.

“In contrast to its recent measures to address the cost-of-living challenge, on the national minimum wage and social protection payments, where it has demonstrated a real pragmatism, its approach to completing a public service pay agreement lacks credibility,” he said.

John King of Siptu said the initial offering would have put little more before deductions than an average of €5 per week in the wages of low-income public service workers and €10 per week in the wages of those on middle-incomes in the first year. He said it “failed the basic test of creating a robust agreement in the face of a continuing cost-of-living crisis”.

The counterproposal from the unions involved increases of 6 per cent this year and 4 per cent next year as well as 1.5 per cent on February 1st, 2026 and 1 per cent of the total to be made available for local bargaining in September of next year.

The proposal was some 50 per cent more than what was offered, but also substantially weighted towards the first 12 months of the 2½ year term the agreement is intended to cover. This is in line with the unions’ view that their members lost out under the terms of the last deal due to a sharp rise in the cost of living. Mr Callinan has suggested that Ministers recognised the need to do something to address that issue.

The committee also finalised the wording of a ballot for industrial action, with unions poised to commence a ballot should it become necessary in the coming days.

Earlier, Mr Donohoe described the Government’s offer as “very, very significant”, saying it would set the tone for pay within the wider economy.

He said he asked now that the union side “reflect on the magnitude” of the proposals that were made, adding that he had indicated he is willing to work on some of the “smaller industrial relations issues they have raised”.

“We’ve made a real effort to reach agreement. I think it’s really disappointing we weren’t able to get an outcome tonight,” he added, saying he had asked the unions reflect on the process.

He said the resumption of talks would be a matter for the WRC, but that the Government side was “available to engage” and wants to reach and agreement.

Prior to Mr Donohoe’s comments, the four union officials directly involved in Wednesday’s talks - Mr Callinan, Mr King, Phil Ní Sheaghdha of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, and John Boyle of the Irish National Teachers Organisation - had declined to disclose what the first or a subsequent offer on pay amounted to, insisting that it would be improper to do so until they had met affiliates.

Mr Callinan, however, said that while “we made progress in relation to the non-pay issues of a possible multiannual agreement, I’m afraid to say the opening offer from the Government side was extremely disappointing and the fact remains that there’s a substantial gap between the parties in relation to pay”.

He said the intention was that the union side would look to agree “a unified approach” to how to progress the situation at the meetings between the Congress affiliates and non-affiliates on Thursday.

“The WRC has indicated to us that the Government side would like some time to reflect on the situation so the talks haven’t broken down but there is going to be a pause of an unknown duration. Let’s see what happens during the course of the day or beyond.”

The unions have previously been critical of the Government side for failing to agree a deal to succeed Building Momentum, which covered pay and a range of other issues for three years until December 31st.

They argued that it was almost unprecedented in the modern era for the country’s 385,000 civil and public sector workers not to be covered by an agreement on pay and working conditions.

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Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times