Speech by Brendan Smith TD on Fianna Fáil’s Private Members Motion on Public Sector Pay and Conditions

brendan-smith

Dáil Éireann Tues April 23, 2013

Deputy Brendan Smith: The Fianna Fáil motion before the House takes stock of where we are now, reflects on the errors made and clearly recognises the need to achieve the savings required in a fairer way.

The fact that the Government has today decided to move part of the way along the road suggested by our motion and by our party spokesperson by asking the chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission to make contact with the parties in the coming days is a welcome development and a recognition of what our party spokesperson on public expenditure, Deputy Sean Fleming, has been saying since the announcement of the vote last week. The only way to begin to undo the damage caused by the “No” vote is to go back to negotiations, treat all public servants equally and respect their goodwill towards the process.

With our party spokesperson, Deputy Fleming, I welcome that the chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission, Mr. Mulvey, has been asked to intercede, but his involvement will only bear fruit if the root causes of the rejection of the Croke Park II deal are fully recognised. Our motion seeks to achieve this as it outlines clearly the issues, the challenges and the need to progress beyond the current impasse.

The serious and difficult position triggered by the “No” vote is of the Government’s own making. It could have been averted if the Government had taken wiser counsel and adopted a less confrontational strategy in the first place. The scale and impact of what has happened is significant. Last week’s rejection of the Croke Park II proposals was the first time in over a quarter of a century that trade unionists have rejected a national agreement.

What could have brought them to discontinue the long-standing practice of industrial harmony in this country that was beneficial to all? As set out in this Private Members’ motion, it was a combination of issues.

First, no sooner had Fine Gael and Labour Ministers taken up their portfolios than a large number of them were undermining the contribution of the public service while spinning behind the scenes about perks and privileges.

Second, most of those Ministers ignored the progress and savings achieved under the original Croke Park agreement. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, is exempt from that criticism as well. I remember a comment he made that was fulsome in regard to the Croke Park deal. Third, the Government adopted a divide and conquer approach that targeted public sector workers on the front line, leaving them to bear a disproportionate burden. All of us in our every day work, and people in society in general, recognise that many of those front-line staff are in the most challenging and demanding sectors of the public service. They are the people we rely on 24 hours a day, seven days a week to deliver services for us in many difficult circumstances. That was coupled with leaked details of an unspecified honey pot that would be available to sweeten the deal for unspecified sectors of the public service.

Fourth, when it became clear that points one to three were not working, the Minister, Deputy Howlin, and the Government produced the big stick of a 7% across the board pay cut that would be pushed through the Oireachtas if workers did not support his proposals.

Nowhere in this strategy did we see the fairness and equality that was needed to win the support of the public service in general. Deputy Fleming, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, repeatedly called for full disclosure of all side offers but those particular details were not forthcoming from the Department or the Minister. That full disclosure is an essential first step if the Government and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform are to have any chance of restoring good faith with the public sector. So, too, is acknowledging the basic unfairness in some elements of the deal put forward so far.

It is difficult to figure out the reason the Government and its supporters, at various levels of public representation and in unions, could have urged and advocated acceptance of a deal that impacted negatively on women and family life. It should never have allowed a deal where two people on the same income according to their payslip would have seen a considerably different impact on their take-home pay depending on how it is made up between core pay and overtime.

The Labour Party’s hard-ball, divide and conquer approach to the Croke Park II deal contrasts with its near silence on the Croke Park I deal. We will recall that in the autumn of 2010 the then Deputy Eamon Gilmore, as leader of the Labour Party in opposition, was singing a different tune. At that time he felt that union members should be left in peace to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the agreement and make their decision accordingly. A few months before that he was telling the Labour Party conference he wanted a government that would “change the way the system works and be prepared to change the system if necessary”.

It is now April 2013 and the Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, and his Ministers are cajoling and warning workers to accept the deal or take a 7% across the board cut. It seems that rather than Labour changing the system, the system has changed Labour.

I appeal to the Minister, Deputy Howlin, who is one of the fairest members of the Government, to ensure that every effort is made to bring about an agreement. It is necessary that the Government engages fully and urgently with public sector unions and seeks an agreed approach to public sector pay. From 1987 until now we have had industrial peace in this country that is for the benefit of all our citizens. I believe it is possible to reach an agreement that achieves the necessary savings while at the same time ensures fairness and social solidarity.

ENDS

The Fianna Fáil motion states:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes the:

— rejection by public sector employees of the Labour Relations Commission’s proposals on pay and conditions;

— failure of the Government to disclose all relevant information concerning the draft agreement;

        — difficulties that the proposed changes to conditions of employment would have had for many families;

— inconsistency of treatment of different categories of public sector employees under the Government’s proposals; and

— disproportionate impact that the proposed measures would have had on the pay and earnings of frontline and shift workers;

      recognises the:

        — huge sacrifices made by public sector employees and pensioners in recent years;

— ongoing savings being delivered by the current Croke Park Agreement;

— significant benefit to the economy and society that the absence of industrial action in the public sector has achieved;

— need to ensure that further reductions in the overall public sector pay and pensions bill occur in a fair and structured manner; and

— importance of a shared commitment to reform by all stakeholders in the delivery of public services; and

      calls for:

        — immediate engagement by the Government with public sector employees with a view to obtaining a balanced agreement that can secure widespread support amongst public sector employees;

— confirmation that the Government will not legislate for an across the board 7 per cent cut in public sector pay; and

— a commitment to full disclosure of all relevant facts prior to the conclusion of a new agreement on public sector pay.

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