The leaders of the ICTU are saying the pay negotiations are over and they have got as much as they can get from the current process.
But it still leaves workers out of pocket. In the last three years (2021-2023) inflation went up by 16%. General public sector pay went up 8.5%. Some workers got another 1% through a local bargaining mechanism. This still leaves most workers currently out of pocket by 6.5%.
But it gets worse because of the phasing of payments workers lost out by even more. In fact ICTU says “the cumulative gap between wages and inflation [amounts] to almost 19% over the last three years” (See: https://www.forsa.ie/public-sector-pay-talks-initial-offer/)
The ESRI predict inflation for 2024 will be 2.9%. Workers are being offered 4.25% (but not for the full year). If we add the 2.9% to the 6.5% above that means they need an increase of at least 9.4% in 2024 alone to stay up with headline inflation and be compensated for the loss of earnings in the last three years. Of course if we take the cumulative losses into account, they need a lot more.
We should of course be wary of predictions that inflation will continue to fall. It actually went up to 4.6% in December 2023 from 3.9% in November.
We are being offered 9.25% for the next two and a half years ie. to the middle of 2026. As well as the 4.25% in 2024, there is 3% in 2025 and 2% to June 2026.
This is not much more than the 8.5% union leaders rejected earlier in the talks and can hardly be seen as the best that’s on offer as it amounts to continued loss of earnings for workers.
This is completely inadequate and must be rejected. Frontline workers were much praised through the pandemic. Now they are struggling with inadequately resourced services and crushing housing costs. Rents went up on average by over 6% last year while mortgage interest repayments went up by 37%. These workers should not be treated in this way.
ICTU will say that there is provision for local bargaining up to the value 3% of basic pay costs. But this only provides for payment of 1% in September 2025 as part of this agreement, with the rest “to be addressed in any successor pay agreement”.
Further, this may involve changes in “work practice or other conditions of service”.
The whole agreement is premised on continued cooperation with “normal ongoing workplace change” including “maximising the benefits” of “Artificial Intelligence and related technologies”. Pay increases are conditional on the delivery on sectoral action plans and compliance with industrial peace provisions in the agreement.
Fight for More
It is quite remarkable that the leaders of ICTU would claim that this is the best they can get when:
1. They have not even balloted for industrial action to put pressure on the government;
2. They have not called even one day of action to push for more.
The contrast with the situation in the North is stark where workers have been mobilised together across the public sector and demonstrated that effective action can put real pressure on the government. Mobilising the members increases the confidence of workers, the strength of the union, and helps recruit young workers.
It’s time for a change of direction here. Our public services cannot recruit staff due to crushing housing costs and the general cost of living. This is leading to increased emigration amongst young teachers and nurses.
Unions must reject these proposals and demand:
· Pay increase that compensates for lost earnings.
· Above inflation increases.
· An escalator clause to protect workers from any further increases in inflation.
· No additional productivity without further increases in pay.