Thursday, 20 June 2013
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Haddington Road Agreement Savings
2. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to impose additional reductions in pay and changes to working terms and conditions to those public sector workers who through their unions do not sign up to the Haddington Road agreement. [29864/13]
The Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2013 was enacted on 5 June 2013. The primary purpose of the legislation is to implement the proposed pay reduction for public servants earning salaries of €65,000 and the parallel reduction in public service pensions of more than €32,500. Contingency measures that may be deployed to secure the necessary reductions in the public service pay and pensions bill also are included, including provisions for a universal freeze on pay increments. The Act also affirms that the person, which may be a line Minister or other public service body, that has the power to determine terms and conditions of employment may exercise that power to reduce non-core rates of pay or to increase hours worked. However, as Members are aware, under the legislation a facility is provided for unions and representative associations to conclude collective agreements with their public service employers. Where a union has signed up to a collective agreement, now called the Haddington Road agreement, that will avoid the need for those contingency measures to be used.
It is a matter for public servants and their representative unions and associations to decide if they wish to conclude a collective agreement with their employers. This issue is currently subject to consideration by ballot by those unions and those members concerned. I do not wish to comment directly during that process, although I welcome the decision today of SIPTU, the biggest union, to endorse the Haddington Road agreement by a significant margin of 76%. With regard to those grades represented by a union which does not conclude a collective agreement under the Act, as well as the increment freeze that will apply directly under the terms of the Act, the relevant decision maker will be obliged to take the necessary measures to meet the targeted pay-bill savings this year and in following years.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for taking this question now and I apologise to the Minister and colleagues for my late arrival into the Chamber. In this question I am trying to establish, for the purposes of clarity, that the Minister intends to make operational those contingency measures, as they are called, in the emergency legislation in respect of those trade union members who do not sign up to or endorse the Haddington Road agreement. The Minister has not said it as bluntly but I take from his reply that this is his intention. He mentioned the capacity for a freeze on increments and longer working hours and consequently, I can only take it that this is the formula he envisages for those workers who are not prepared to sign up to the Haddington Road agreement. I put it to the Minister that to say or do this on the one hand, while claiming on the other hand that collective bargaining rights are not just respected but are supported by the legislation the Minister brought through this House simply does not tally at all. It now will be clear to workers it has been a case of getting workers to sign up to these cuts voluntarily or having the Government imposing them unilaterally.
That makes a farce of any claim the Minister might make to support free collective bargaining.
I fundamentally disagree with the Deputy. The reverse is the case. This process has been honest with workers from the start. We laid out the requirements of the State in terms of the pay bill, as everybody knows, the condition of the public finances and the view of Government that we needed to make a further contribution to solving the deficit hole through reducing the pay and pensions bill. We opened the books so that people could understand, and then we engaged to see how we could do that with as much agreement as possible. The first set of negotiated agreements through the Labour Relations Commission, LRC, were rejected, and we gave further time to the LRC to see if that discussion could be reopened. Unions that did not really engage the first time around engaged the second time around. That was a good, open, democratic and honest process. However, like any employer, we could not allow a situation in which there would be no consequences for those who did not accept the agreement while those who accepted it would face the consequences. The Deputy knows that. We will make the savings, hopefully through agreement across all sectors. It is still the Government's wish that every employee be subject to the Haddington Road agreement, but where there are sectors that exclude themselves from it, the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation will apply.
There is not a person in the country, much less in the public service, who does not understand the state of the public finances and the economic crisis, not of their making, into which we have all been plunged-----
-----but it does not add up to say that the only mechanism available to the Government to fix this hole in the public finances is to target members of the Civil and Pubic Service Union, including clerical workers who looked at the Haddington Road agreement and felt that, given everything they have endured in the past few years and the fact that they are very low-paid workers, an extension of their working hours, a pausing of their increments, a running down of their terms and conditions and what in reality amounts to a pay cut through an extension of hours was not something they could live with, and it was not fair. There were other things the Minister could have done. There are other things he could still do with an eye to mending the public finances. The Minister repeats again and again that the only ones to take a hit under these proposals are people earning in excess of €65,000. That is just not true.
What is true is that the only employees getting a direct pay cut are those earning in excess of €65,000, and the Deputy knows that full well. It is interesting that the Deputy has now moved away from groups she was highlighting on the last occasion - who have now, by and large, accepted the Haddington Road agreement - to the CPSU.
Its members are currently being balloted and, unlike the Deputy, I do not want to involve myself in their ballot. I agree that everybody in the public service is affected, because everybody is asked to make some contribution, but those represented by the CPSU are minimally affected. Their core pay is not touched at all. They do not do overtime, by and large, and they have been asked to work additional hours. That is what is being asked of them in that instance. That is a reasonable request when we are asking everybody in the public service to work a couple of extra hours. They represent a category of workers that are minimally touched in that regard.
On the general point the Deputy makes that this is not the only option, of course this is not the only option. We are looking at significant reductions across every aspect of public expenditure, and the Deputy will be shouting at me for all of those; she has done so for years. We will be increasing taxes, and the Deputy will be opposing that also. She will be opposing the local property tax and everything else. It is certainly not the only option but it is part of the range of options that will bring this country back to a sustainable path of recovery.