Pay talks ‘crucial’ to avoid strike ballots, says union chief

Unions have said that if there is no agreement, they will meet next Thursday to begin the process of balloting on industrial action over pay

Talks between Government and unions next week will be crucial if a round of strike ballots in public sector trade unions are to be avoided, a senior union leader has said.

Talks between officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and union leaders on a new public sector pay deal adjourned without agreement before Christmas and are due to reconvene next week.

But unions have said that if there is no agreement, they will meet next Thursday to begin the process of balloting on industrial action over pay.

Kevin Callinan, the general secretary of the Fórsa union and former President of Ictu, said that ballots on a possible wave of public sector strikes are likely to go ahead unless there is agreement in the first half of next week.


“I don’t see our meeting on Thursday being deferred,” he said. “If there’s no agreement, the ballots will go ahead.”

Talks with Government representatives on Monday and Tuesday, he said, will be “really crucial”.

But there has been little sign in recent weeks that an agreement on pay for 2024 – and perhaps subsequent years – is likely. After several weeks of negotiations, the talks were paused before Christmas, and while some progress on issues was reported, sources say that the two sides have not yet discussed the central issue of a pay increase for the State’s 385,000 employees.

The existing pay deal expired at the end of 2023, leading the trade unions to announce they would ballot for industrial action next week if no deal was agreed. Before Christmas, the Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said that the State side would make a pay offer once all other issues had been resolved. Union sources have complained that the Government has shown little urgency to conclude a deal.

The prospect of public sector strikes would cause significant unease in Government, particularly with elections on the horizon.

Sinn Féin called on the Government to “dedicate itself to negotiating a public-sector pay agreement as a matter of urgency”.

The party’s spokeswoman on enterprise and employment Louise O’Reilly said the Government has “refused to conclude a deal before the Building Momentum agreement expired.

“Resultantly, public sector workers have been outside of a pay agreement since January 1st.

“This is a total failure of the Government, and this is incredibly destabilising for industrial relations,” she said.

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Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times