The General Secretary of Fórsa, the country’s largest public sector trade union, has said that improving pay must be his union’s priority.
In an address to delegates at Fórsa’s national conference in Killarney, Co Kerry, Kevin Callinan said that runaway inflation was leading to a cost of living crisis.
“Our job is to do what we can to protect living standards. That means employers, who can afford to do so, must improve rates of pay,” Mr Callinan said.
“That includes the Government as an employer.”
He said that pay issues would be pursued with a single-minded determination because workers, their families and their communities are the victims of inflation, not the cause.
Unions met with Government officials for exploratory talks on public sector pay last week and the Workplace Relations Commission has been asked to facilitate further talks in the coming weeks.
Last week’s meeting was organised after the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath, asked his officials to engage with unions after they triggered a review clause in the current public sector agreement, ‘Building Momentum’.
Under the existing deal, public sector workers received a 1% pay increase last year, with a further 1% due in October but ICTU triggered the review clause in light of soaring inflation.
“I have made it clear that there needs to be an improvement in the agreement’s pay terms this year,” Mr Callinan said in his address today.
He said that the Government had acknowledged that inflation assumptions had changed, that a change to the agreement’s pay terms would be discussed and they wanted to achieve some certainty about next year’s public service pay bill before October’s Budget.
“I am not taking anything for granted, and I don’t underestimate the scale of the challenge, but I believe that this is a solid basis for the substantial negotiations, which I expect to get underway in the next couple of weeks,” Mr Callinan said.
Delegates at the Fórsa conference have passed a series of motions calling for pay increases.
“The rising cost of living is now the priority bargaining issue for workers, as sustained high inflation erodes spending power and living standards,” the first motion stated.
Some delegates called for pay increases of more than 6% to match inflation, others called for double-digit increases.
A motion calling for a 30% pay rise was withdrawn.
“We need to get strike ready, get ready to fight and start organising lunchtime protests,” one delegate said.
Around 700 delegates are attending the Fórsa conference and other motions being debated over the course of the three-day gathering cover issues such as remote working, pensions and climate change.
Kevin Callinan at the Fórsa conference in Killarney
Last night, the Government’s approach to remote and hybrid working was criticised by the president of Fórsa.
Addressing delegates at the opening of the union’s conference, Michael Smyth said legislation drafted in January effectively gave employers a right to refuse remote work, rather than giving workers a right to request it.
“The long list of ‘reasons to refuse’ in the draft law revealed a Government prepared to pander to every employer sensitivity and stereotype, no matter how baseless, falling back on old and outmoded ways of thinking about the relationship between employers and workers,” Mr Smyth said.
Unions have said that the ‘Right to Request Remote Working Bill’ is stacked in favour of the employer when it comes to grounds for refusal and grounds for appeal.
Yesterday, officials from the Department of Enterprise appeared before the Oireachtas Enterprise Committee and said the Government is open to changing the draft remote working legislation.
The department is looking at strengthening the rights of appeal and may reduce the number of grounds under which an application can be refused.