Public Affairs

TRADE UNION DESK 2024-2026 Public Service Pay Agreement

The votes of union members have been counted, and a new deal to govern public service pay until June 2026 has been ratified by the Public Services Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), writes committee chair and General Secretary of Fórsa, Kevin Callinan.

Following a brief spell under the media spotlight, the core business is done, and all that is left now is the implementation of the agreed pay increases over the next two years.

Well, perhaps it is not quite that simple. A couple of significant challenges remain, both for the unions and for the Government in its role as employer.

At the outset of the negotiations, the Public Services Committee of ICTU set out a few very clear objectives. Second to cost-of-living compensation was to ensure that the last remnants of FEMPI (Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest), the emergency legislation introduced to cut public spending in 2009, were finally unwound.

We sought this final legislative decommissioning to reflect the current circumstances. That is to say ‘normal’ conditions with regard to public service industrial relations. That some aspects of the legislation continued to exist – long after the public finances had returned to a healthy condition – was, at best, an irritant to the process of conducting any form of negotiation, local or national.

The legislation continued to centralise the power of the Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform. The effect was to stall industrial relations, even when local agreement between employers and unions had already been established. Unions were clear, it was in nobody’s interest to conduct industrial relations as though a phantom crisis continued to exist. The onus on government now is to meet its commitment to unwind the legislation, and shift the focus to local bargaining, a feature unique to the new agreement.

Unions were equally focused on securing local bargaining to ensure some flexibility in the deal. It allows us to move away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Aside from flat rate increases (to improve the value for lower paid workers), and provisions for a sectoral bargaining fund in the previous public service agreement (Building Momentum), most of the ‘post-crisis’ pay agreements have had a slightly homogenous aspect to them.

The local bargaining element contained in the new agreement marks a fresh departure and provides a genuine challenge for trade unions. We have a relatively short window of opportunity to nail down detailed arrangements for local bargaining (30 June 2024), while local negotiations are to take place between July 2024 and June 2025.

We will have to secure agreements, to the greatest extent possible, through direct negotiations. But this represents the real value of the local bargaining provisions in the deal. It allows us the flexibility to address a wide range of bespoke challenges and address some long standing challenges among specific groups of employees.

It demands that we do our homework and engage on the challenges. For seasoned trade union officials, this is a welcome challenge. For a wide range of specific groups, grades, and categories of public service workers, it brings the business of industrial relations closer to home, where their specific concerns can be properly addressed.

Fórsa’s national executive backed the terms of this deal, and its recommendation to members to support it was based on the understanding that this was the absolute maximum achievable through negotiations right now. In this context, local bargaining adds value to the core elements of the agreement and frees our hand to deliver a range of tailored solutions for workers throughout our public services.

With FEMPI unwinding and the local bargaining process almost underway, public service industrial relations should, at last, be normalised.

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