Public sector pay talks delays caused by introduction of unexpected items by unions, says Donohoe

Unions say they will move to industrial action if there is no deal by January 11th and deny raising unexpected items in talks

The suggestion of industrial action in the public sector is “regrettable” but the delay to the talks intended to produce a new national pay agreement has been caused by the union side’s introduction of a number of unexpected items to the negotiations in recent weeks, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe has said.

Mr Donohoe was reacting to an announcement by the Public Services Committee (PSC) of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the affiliates of which represent the vast majority of the 385,000 employers who will be impacted by the outcome of the talks, that it will proceed to balloting members for industrial action on January 11th if a new deal has not been agreed by then.

In a statement after the PSC met, the unions had expressed disappointment over what they regarded as the slow pace of progress at the talks which started three weeks ago at the Workplace Relations Commission but which have yet to include any engagement on the issue of pay.

Speaking at a press conference to address the threat of industrial action by the 19 unions involved, Mr Donohoe said the Government side intended to make an offer on pay but that this was traditionally the final element of such talks. He said getting to that point had been delayed by unflagged items raised by the unions’ negotiators which required consideration before being addressed.


“The Government is committed to reaching a comprehensive multiyear agreement on public pay,” he said. “And in recognition of this commitment, I gave a firm undertaking last month to repeal remaining Fempi legislation (financial crash era provisions the unions want repealed) in an effort to generate goodwill and remove any barriers to discussions.

“It was recognised by all parties that these talks would be taking place against a challenging background and over the last few weeks, the parties have been working constructively. And I understood that progress had been made on a number of issues. But I also know that a number of new items have been raised at a relatively late stage in the process. And this has presented challenges in bringing these discussions to conclusion.”

Mr Donohoe said he would not say what the issues were “out of respect to the process” and union side negotiators subsequently denied there were any, insisting that all matters raised during the negotiations had been well flagged in advance.

The Minister, however, referenced the issue on a number of occasions said it was “unfortunate” the new items had hampered progress and “regrettable” the unions had progressed to talking about a ballot for industrial action.

He said he hoped the talks would resume after Christmas and “we can make further progress”.

Earlier, the 19 member unions of the PSC were briefed by negotiators who suggested there was a lack of urgency on the Government side about getting a deal done despite the fact that the current one will expire on December 31st.

John Boyle of the Irish National Teachers Organisation said the unions needed “to prepare the ground for a dispute,” as the Government position created uncertainty.

Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan, who also chairs the PSC, meanwhile, said after its meeting the unions remained available for further talks.

“It’s now unlikely talks will resume before Christmas, although we did express our willingness to meet over the next few days in order to conclude a deal.”

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Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times