Strikes over public pay remain likely if agreement not quickly reached in talks, says INMO

General secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha told conference ongoing delays represent ‘a gamble’ with workers frustrated by failure to reach deal

Strikes over public pay remain likely if an agreement is not quickly reached in the public sector pay talks, according to general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives organisation Phil Ní Sheaghdha who is due to brief the union’s national executive on Friday.

The talks have been paused without an arrangement for further meetings since breaking up in the middle last week.

Speaking at an event related to research into the experiences of essential workers during the pandemic at UCD on Thursday, Ms Ní Sheaghdha said the unions had been asked by officials at the Workplace Relations Commission to give the Government’s side time in the wake of last week’s exchanges.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said they were doing that but that the ongoing delays represented “a gamble” with public sector workers frustrated by the failure to reach agreement on pay increases given the cost of living increases they have experienced.


“The INMO executive is meeting tomorrow and some of the other unions are also meeting around now,” she said. “So we’ll be proceeding with seeking permission under our rules for ballots, and we’ve agreed the wording of the ballot paper from our Public Services Committee meeting last week.

“The point is that it [a ballot on strike action] is not inevitable, but it’s very likely unless there is an intervention, and that has to be sooner rather than later.

“I think the delay to the talks is a gamble. I think public servants are fairly focused on the cost of living. A lot of low paid workers, are seeing the declining purchasing power of their salary; they’re very aware of what their pay packet can buy them now in the supermarket or in rent.

“You’re talking about people, not big earners, who have seen the value of what they earn eroded because of inflation, and they’re saying to their employer, that has to be addressed.”

Earlier on Thursday, Ms Ní Sheaghdha said the unions had placed a particular emphasis on seeking larger increases for lower paid workers during last week’s talks. Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe said afterwards that while the Government offer would have been worth 8.5 per cent overall, it would have given less well paid civil and public servants pay increases of around 12 per cent over the 2½ year term of the proposed deal.

Mr Donohoe said last week the Government was prepared to re-enter the talks process whenever the WRC issued a new invitation but speaking on Wednesday he gave no indication of when he thought negotiations might recommence.

The national executive of Siptu met on Thursday and afterwards that union’s deputy general secretary, John King said “the bottom line is that Minister must provide the necessary space and capacity to his officials to fully re-engage with the WRC in order to ensure that an acceptable and fair set of proposals are secured and to avoid industrial and strike action.

“This means protecting public services and providing a fair reward to public service workers through meaningful and sustainable pay increases in what continues to be a cost-of-living crisis for workers and their families.”

Speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday, Mr Donohoe stopped short of ruling out an increased Government pay offer to public servants, while insisting the current €2.9 billion proposal is ahead of the rate of inflation forecast for the Irish economy over the next years and represents a “fair” deal.

Mr Donohoe said the Government’s pre-existing offer was “ahead of what many in the private sector will be seeing”.

“I do want an agreement but I want an agreement that is affordable,” Mr Donohoe said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Pressed if the Government would go above the €2.9 billion offer, Mr Donohoe said he had to be careful about making “absolute statements”. This would be inconsistent with engaging with the WRC process.

“If you’re going to go back into the WRC it has to be on the basis of trying to find an agreement.”

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Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times