Government pay and pension proposals not yet tabled at talks

Measures on increasing the level of Saturday working have been diluted

Talks on a new public service agreement are still underway between the Government and representatives of its 300,000 employees.

It is understood the Government has still not formally tabled its proposals on pay and pension issues. The talks on Wednesday afternoon concentrated on non- pay issues.

It is understood the Government is still at this stage insisting on relaxing existing restrictions on out-sourcing of public services.

This is considered to be a “red line” by trade unions.

Sources said original government proposals on increasing the level of Saturday working had been diluted and that it is now envisaged that the issue would be reviewed.

Talks are still underway on measures to improve recruitment and retention of staff. Under current proposals this issue would be examined by the Public Service Pay Commission and all parties would consider its recommendations.

An issue that emerged on Tuesday evening – and led to much argument – was whether a provision should be made for special sectoral arrangements within the new accord. It is understood there had been an expectation that no such sectoral deals would be permitted.

However, sources said a number of groups, particularly in the health sector, pushed for arrangement that would deal with specific grievances of members such as allowances for health service workers and the implementation of some commitments from previous agreements.

In a draft document tabled on Tuesday, the Government again insisted on relaxing restrictions on the outsourcing of some public services. This is considered a “red line” issue by trade unions and further draft proposals are expected to be aired on Wednesday.

It is unclear if the Government is determined to introduce reforms to facilitate more out-sourcing or if it will “trade” this issue off as the talk’s progress.

Staff retention

Another outstanding matter is how difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff in the public service can be addressed. Nurses and doctors have argued that this can only be tackled through the provision of financial incentives.

However, special increases for medical and nursing staff are opposed by both the Government and other trade unions, about 20 of which say they face the same issues.

While no proposals on pay improvements were formally tabled, it is understood the Government is insisting on greater pension contributions from most public service employees under a new three-tiered structure.

The Government is expected to agree to eliminate the public service pension levy, which was originally put in place as an emergency measure in 2009 following the economic crash and brings in more than €700 million annually.

Sources said the Government had indicated it wanted to generate €550 million a year from a proposed higher pension contribution.

Faster accruing

It is understood that under Government proposals about 23,000 staff with faster accruing pensions – such as Gardaí, prison officers and fire fighters – would effectively pay the same as at present under the pension levy.

The vast bulk of public service staff – those appointed prior to 2013 and who are covered by the standard pension scheme – would also have to pay more, although no details have emerged about the proposed scale of the contributions envisaged, the income threshold above which the additional contributions would take effect or whether the level of payments should be graded on salary grounds.

Any new pay deal agreed is expected to be “back-loaded”, with the bulk of any increases coming towards the end of what would probably be a three-year deal. Government representatives again told trade unions on Tuesday that the scope for increases in 2018 was very limited. It has forecast that the fiscal space for next year will be about €200 million.