Talks to finalize a new civil service pay deal are set to ‘intensify’ over the next fortnight as the government seeks to strike a deal ahead of the next budget.
Wednesday morning saw the first formal talks between unions and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) after weeks of shadow boxing over what form a new deal would take.
The first day of talks between the parties at the Workplace Relations Committee came amid the ongoing cost of living crisis – a fact highlighted by both government and unions as likely to be the key variable in any agreement.
Although little substantial progress was made on Wednesday, sources familiar with the deliberations suggested that wage issues, as opposed to sectoral issues or working conditions, will be at the center of the deliberations.
“It is launched and the talks will intensify if not next week, then the week after,” said a source close to the discussion.
The government is believed to prefer an extension of the current Building Momentum deal, which was agreed on the short term in December 2020 at the height of the pandemic.
Michael McGrath, the Public Expenditure Minister, has previously signaled his willingness to address the cost of living issue, saying “we are prepared to go beyond the pay terms of the current deal”, but with any increase “balanced with risk”. cause long-term damage to the economy.
On Wednesday, Mr McGrath said negotiations would be “difficult” amid very high inflation.
A DPER spokesperson described Wednesday’s talks as “ongoing exploratory discussions between the parties” regarding Building Momentum.
Both sides have long recognized that the inflationary pressures seen globally far exceed anything allowed in the old deal, making a speedy conclusion to wage talks all the more desirable.
While some members of Fórsa, the country’s largest public sector union, have argued for wage increases of more than 10% in any new deal, neither side has been willing to commit to the scale. of an increase which may be agreed.
At the union conference in Killarney in May, Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan proposed a motion, which was passed unanimously, that tackling cost of living challenges would be his number one priority. one in the future, which he said the union would pursue “with unique determination”.
Building Momentum had taken into account wage increases of 0.25% in 2021, with inflation for the year of 2.4%. This figure is currently above 6% and rising, far exceeding the EU’s previous forecast for Irish inflation in 2022, which pointed to 4.6% as the likely peak.
The next round of talks at the WRC is now scheduled for June 10.