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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 Jun 1986

Vol. 367 No. 9

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Public Service Pay.


asked the Minister for the Public Service if he will enter into discussion with the Union of Professional and Technical Civil Servants regarding the payment of the arbitration awards to forestry staff.


asked the Minister for the Public Service if he will outline the final settlement on the agricultural officers dispute; and if the Government will now pay the other grades of staff involved; i.e. foresters, at an early date.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 and 5 together.

The Deputies will be aware that, as a result of negotiations which I have had with the Union of Professional and Technical Civil Servants, agreement has been reached with that union on arrangements for the implementation of all their outstanding arbitration findings. The arrangements take account of the special aspects of these findings.

The agreement provides that an allowance for certain agricultural officers on beef classification duties will be paid in full in accordance with the arbitrator's findings. It also provides for the implementation, from 1 May 1986, of certain increases in pay for other groups, including agricultural officers and forester grades. Any balance of the increases recommended by the arbitrator for these groups will be paid on a phased basis from 1 December 1986, 1 December 1987 and 1 July 1988. In addition, ex-gratia lump sum payments will be paid on a phased basis over the next four years, commencing in July 1986.

The agreement is in the context of the acceptance by the union of the other elements in the package of proposals, covering the 25th round and other pay-related matters, negotiated with the Civil Service unions in January last. The arrangements which I have outlined in relation to the arbitration findings for forester grades and other groups will be implemented as soon as possible after the union signify their acceptance of the overall package.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I would like to clarify a few points. Do I now take it that the nine grades of staff for whom claims have been put in by the Union of Professional and Technical Civil Servants will be paid in full and that the only difference is that the period of payment has been changed? Will the full retrospection for the six grades as well as the three who have already been offered a settlement now be paid in full?

The Deputy is aware of the complexity of this group of nine and I am conscious of time constraints. The increases as recommended in the rates of pay by the Arbitrator would be paid in full over the phased period. In regard to sums of retrospection so-called — if the Deputy accepts that as a shorthand description of moneys involved — six of the nine awards have a phased reduced amount of payment in relation to the amount of retrospection that would otherwise have fallen due if the Arbitrator's award had been paid in full.

I understand the complexities of this and I do not know how the Minister will calculate it. But could the Minister give an idea of the percentage reduction on the full payment of the Arbitrator's award?

I can give it but I would prefer to give it in writing to the Deputy in the form of a tabular statement because it is of such a complex nature that I do not have that information in ready form. So as not to mislead the House I would not like to put it on the record of the House now. But I will undertake to write to the Deputy with the full details.

I appreciate that. The statements put out in the media — I am not sure if they came from the Minister's office or from the Government's press team — were very misleading. To somebody who knows the figures and calculations as well as I do, the figures appear to be either in error or set out to mislead the public. So I would very much appreciate a full and detailed reply to the question I have asked.

I put down a specific question asking when would the Arbitrator's award be paid to the forestry workers. This was awarded some time ago and it has not been implemented. When will this be done?

It will be implemented in the context of the timetable I set out in my earlier reply as one of the nine awards to which Deputy Ahern referred. At all times my Department or any Department that I have been responsible for have dealt with factual information in relation to figures as they have occurred. If the Deputy is referring to anything specific that emerged as misleading information, in his view, from the Department of the Public Service and if he could give me sight of it or draw my attention to it I could give him an answer.

I am referring to the £5 million.

I will have the points clarified and if the Deputy is not satisfied he can come back to me on it.

Have the Union of Professional and Technical Civil Servants now accepted the 25th round pay proposals?

Yes, subject to 100 per cent confirmation. The ballot is still proceeding and I have not, as of now, got the final wording.


asked the Minister for the Public Service if he is aware of the generally low level of wages of public service manual grade workers; if he has any plans to bring these wages up to an acceptable level; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The pay and conditions of the public service workers referred to in the Deputy's question are the result of the operation of the process of free collective bargaining over the years. The services of the Labour Court or other independent adjudication are an established part of this process. In many instances the present pay levels of workers in this group have, in fact, been determined as a result of Labour Court or adjudication findings.

The system of free collective bargaining supported, where necessary, by the services of the Labour Court, has long been accepted by both sides as the appropriate method of pay determination for this group of public service workers.

Does the Minister mean that these groups of workers have, over the years and to date, had separate negotiations on their own pay claims or is it the case that the Minister issues guidelines on public sector pay which are then the norm laid down for the workers? Is it the position that percentage guidelines are laid down?

Could I give an outline? The process of pay determination as it stands here today is subject to negotiation by both sides. It is for that reason that the Employer Labour Conference are sitting at this moment attempting to find the basis of a solution of a dispute in relation to pay. There is no imposed pay upon anybody. Free collective bargaining, with all that implies, is the way in which pay is determined in our economy. As long as I am involved in any Government, that is the way it will continue to be.

With respect to the category of workers to which the Deputy refers, described as generally on low levels of pay, in the first instance within the framework of collective bargaining it is for their representative organisations to argue direct for and propose a package in relation to their levels of pay. I should tell the House, and the Deputy in particular, that in the context of the 25th round the package which was negotiated with the general body of unions representing the different categories was negotiated and accepted with reference to its being put to ballot by the officials and representatives of the unions to their general members. In the first instance I think it is up to the representative workers' organisations and low paid workers to propose an alternative to the package. Should that alternative involve substituting floors of payment, lump sum payments, or flat rate increases as distinct from percentages, then it is up to them to say so. That has not been the case in the context of the 25th round in the manner in which the negotiations finally concluded.

I do not want to get into any argument on the current dispute. I am particularly interested in the Minister's attitude to the low paid workers in the public service. I am sure he will agree there are workers whose pay is low and who have great difficulty in managing in these times. I am sure he will also agree that a general percentage rise does not as adequately recompense low paid workers as it does high paid workers for general increases in costs, different changes in family circumstances and so on. In future pay rounds, would the Minister give special consideration to low paid workers in what has now become the norm, where he issues pay guidelines for the public service? We will not then have one percentage figure given as the norm.

I am not unsympathetic to what the Deputy has suggested — on the contrary. However, it would be more appropriate in the first instance if the unions representing such categories of workers were to indicate the kind of alternative to percentage increases, which latter have been the norm in recent years in our free collective bargaining process. Within the spirit of collective bargaining it would be for them, in the first instance, to suggest the alternative they would like to see. I give the Deputy an undertaking that we would be prepared to look at such alternatives should they emerge.

Ceist 6. There will not be time for any supplementary questions, I am afraid.


asked the Minister for the Public Service if he will make a statement on the Government's policy on the role of the public service pay arbitrator.

The roles of the various Public Service Arbitration Boards are set out in detail in each of the public service conciliation and arbitration schemes, copies of which are available in the Library. While this role differs slightly from scheme to scheme, broadly speaking, the role of the arbitration board is to consider and report on claims submitted to them in accordance with the scheme.

In this context I would refer the Deputy to paragraph 4 of the 25th round proposals entitled "Industrial Relations Harmony" which provides that:

In the interests of actively promoting industrial relations harmony the parties shall

(a) without prejudice to the rights of the parties to refer claims to adjudication, endeavour to the greatest possible extent to resolve claims and differences without recourse to adjudication;

(b) engage in meaningful discussions on changes desired by either of the parties to this Agreement in the Conciliation and Arbitration Schemes including, inter alia, matters raised by the Official Side or the Staff Side in previous correspondence and discussions.

I would be hopeful that these talks would lead to mutually acceptable changes which would promote good industrial relations and result in the continuation of full co-operation between both sides.

Ceist 11 from Deputy John O'Leary.

A Cheann Comhairle, could I ask——

I am sorry Deputy, I must go now to the Defence questions.

May I put it on the record, as I notice that there is a review of the system——

I cannot allow the Deputy.

I purposely put in very few Fianna Fáil questions so that we could get an opportunity to raise them. This will be the last time for four and a half months that I shall be allowed to ask a question. I ask the Ceann Comhairle to make sure that this silly idea of adding together Defence and Public Service questions be stopped.

That is a matter for the Whips.

It is not my job. You are in charge of the House.

Could I just ask——

I am sorry, Deputy, I must go to the Defence questions.

I presume I shall get five minutes extra.

The Deputy is wasting time. It was a question to the Taoiseach and that has been excluded. The time is divided after that.

I apologise.

I did not get even one question, only half a question.

If there is not an argument, one must be manufactured.

I would never do that.

Would the Minister guarantee that the reappointment of an arbitrator would not be used as a bargaining counter in the discussions?

I call Question No. 11.

The Deputy should bring up his question in November next.