Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Questions (24, 25, 29, 39, 53)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

24. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his rationale for renewing the financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation, given recent reports that Ireland is the European Union's fastest growing economy; if he had discussions with the Department of Finance prior to this renewal on alternative possible revenue streams to replace the €2.2 billion that public sector workers contribute to the economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19754/16]

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Róisín Shortall

Question:

25. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his target date for the complete unwinding of the financial emergency measures in the public interest measures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19801/16]

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Mick Barry

Question:

29. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will repeal the financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation given the Government's claim of economic recovery. [19762/16]

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Ruth Coppinger

Question:

39. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to repeal the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts. [19803/16]

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Paul Murphy

Question:

53. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will consider a repeal of financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation in view of the Government's claims regarding economic recovery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19800/16]

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Oral answers (60 contributions) (Question to Public)

One of the most shocking aspects of the emergency measures taken was what was done to newly qualified teachers, nurses and public servants. There is nothing in the Lansdowne Road agreement that commits to doing anything about that pay apartheid. What is the Minister going to do? How can he justify the sort of pay apartheid that will mean that somebody who happens to come in after 2012 will, over the course of 40 years of a working life, earn €250,000 less than somebody who happened to come in before that?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 24, 25, 29, 39 and 53 togther.

I have already touched on some of the points regarding the justification for renewal of the legislation. I will not read the text of my reply again because the Deputy is already familiar with it, and I will not waste his time and the time of those in the Gallery by not responding to the questions.

On the particular point put to me by the Deputy regarding the status of people who joined our public service at various points during the crisis we went through, for one employer - namely, the State - its resources and ability to hire people were very badly affected because of the crisis we were in at that point. As was the case with other employers who also found themselves facing difficulty, employees were taken on in changed circumstances.

In reply to Deputy Calleary, I said that the Lansdowne Road agreement puts in place processes and ways in which representatives of employees - that is, unions - can deal with their employer, which in this case is the Government. We made progress in that area a short while ago regarding the status of issues raised by firefighters. I have now indicated to the House that meetings took place yesterday regarding the INTO and TUI on that very issue. We will now determine how and whether we can work with unions on that matter.

I want to acknowledge the significant contribution that public servants make to our country every day. I refer to the stark figures I outlined to the Deputy earlier. The immediate repeal of all of the measures taken across that phase of our emergency actions would cost €2.2 billion per year. I cannot reconcile that figure with the need to fund all the other public services that the House wants me to deliver.

Talk of negotiations is not a commitment to get rid of something that is patently unfair. Rather, it suggests that the Minister does not intend to fully get rid of something that is completely unjustifiable - namely, this sort of pay apartheid.

In terms of new entrants, a lot of teachers now have no incentive whatsoever to increase their qualifications, particularly those that would allow them to work in areas such as special needs or with vulnerable groups, because most of the cuts imposed on newly qualified teachers were in the areas of allowances, which are mainly linked to qualifications. Not only has the Government imposed an unfair pay apartheid on teachers and other public sector workers but, now that the embargo has been lifted, a bomb will go off in terms of the injustice facing such public servants. The Government is also undermining the quality of education for children, particularly those who are vulnerable, in the education system.

The Deputy accused me of acting in bad faith. If I stood up in the House and said the negotiations and discussions were not on the way he would condemn me for that, as he has done in the past. I am now confirming that the discussions began yesterday. The Deputy used a crucial phrase in saying that the embargo was gone. We now have the ability to hire more public servants to take on front-line roles than would have appeared possible or realistic number of years ago. This is all due to the very change in our circumstances that the Deputy said would never happen. The Government now wants to use the benefits of that to try to support those who provide invaluable work in our classrooms, our teachers, the work gardaí do-----

The Minister has not answered the question. He is waffling on.

Now, through the Lansdowne Road agreement, we will honour the agreement we have with them. As I said, we began discussions with representatives of teachers yesterday.

I have three points to put to the Minister. Last year, when the then Minister, Deputy Howlin, introduced legislation to start the restoration of pay that had been cut, he said there was a real threat of legal action given that the State was no longer in an emergency situation. Has the Minister taken legal advice in this regard and, if so, what did it state? By any measure, the State is no longer in an emergency situation. For that reason, does the Minister accept that there is a very strong case for accelerating the restoration of public sector pay, particularly for low-paid workers, many of whom still qualify for family income supplement, and pensioners?

I refer to new recruits. Does the Minister accept the urgency of the situation? Many young teachers are heading off to places such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi to try to get some money together in order that they can live in Dublin, in particular. This is a wholly unsatisfactory situation. Teachers, nurses and gardaí are affected. I heard what the Minister said about starting talks with the two teacher unions, but does he accept that this is an urgent issue and he needs to move quickly to restore pay?

I thank Deputy Shortall for her questions. In response to her first question on whether I am aware of the potential for legal action, of course it is always open to any group within society to challenge any piece of legislation introduced by the State. Deputy Shortall put a direct question to me, asking whether I am acting in a manner consistent with the legal advice I have received. The answer to that question is "Yes". I would not bring forward the maintenance of a piece of legislation unless I was absolutely satisfied it was legal, and I am.

In response to the second question the Deputy put to me on acceleration beyond the Lansdowne Road agreement, I do not have plans to go beyond that agreement at the moment. I stress to Deputy Shortall that we are halfway through the first year of that agreement. As I said previously, what I do not want to see happen - because I have seen the harm it causes - is promises of wage increases today that the State will find out it cannot pay for in the future. That would become the savage wage cut of tomorrow.

I do not want that to happen.

On the third point, I am aware of people whom we want to work in the public service who are going abroad.

The Minister will have other opportunities to respond.

I want them to be able to stay at home.

Over a 40-year career, a teacher starting out now faces a loss of €250,000 compared to when I started teaching. Does the Minister think that is justified? The starting salary for a teacher now is €8,500 less than it was a few years ago, which is a 20% cut. The Minister is maintaining that in the new agreement. The reason the ASTI and others have not signed up to the agreement is that they are not willing any longer to go into the staff room and look young teachers in the eye when some people are earning higher pay and others are not. The media is very fond of saying that the unions sold out young teachers. Here is a union taking a stand against selling out young teachers and they are being blackguarded as a result. It was the same with Luas workers. They took a stand against new drivers being put on a lower pay scale and they were blackguarded by the media and the Government. That is what happens when people opt out of an unequal arrangement.

Nobody is being blackguarded by this Government. As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I dealt with some of the Luas issues. I have dealt with many industrial relations matters. I have always recognised the right of people to be outside collective agreements and their democratic right to ballot on any agreement that is put to them. It is for union members to make a decision on whether they want to be part of an agreement or not.

I am pleased that Deputy Coppinger specifically mentioned the ASTI. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, has made it very clear that he wants to engage with the ASTI on its association with the Lansdowne Road agreement and other issues of concern to the union. However, I also respect those people who voted in favour of the agreement. Deputy Coppinger took no cognisance of the point I made a moment ago, namely, that yesterday we began engagement with unions on the issue she raised.

I wish to respond to the point about democracy. It is utterly cynical to attempt to portray a vote by workers in favour of, for example, the Lansdowne Road agreement as an endorsement that the Minister can now use to justify the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation, considering that FEMPI existed previously. FEMPI existed in order to act as a gun to the head of workers and unions and to create pressure on them to vote in favour of the deals. That was its explicit purpose. FEMPI is fundamentally anti-democratic, as is the way it is being processed. The intention is to cut across democracy. The way it is being dealt with in this House and the fact that we do not get a vote on the extension of FEMPI is fundamentally undemocratic.

FEMPI is also fundamentally misnamed. Where is the financial emergency? How can the Minister tally that with the statement by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, that the economic recovery is now firmly established? Also, it is not in the public interest; neither the destruction of public service nor the undermining of people's wages and conditions was in the public interest. It was in the interests of bondholders and bankers, who got that money, and other private sector employers who wanted to benefit from a divide-and-rule situation.

What is cynical is putting words in my mouth that I never said. I never said that anybody who voted for the Lansdowne Road agreement was voting for FEMPI.

But the Minister used it as justification.

No. Deputy Murphy is putting words in my mouth. I can see the Deputy has already acknowledged that he is wrong.

What I said is that those people who voted for the Lansdowne Road agreement simply voted for that agreement.

But in the context of FEMPI.

I did not make any reference to FEMPI.

The Minister threatened people.

The Minister should be allowed to speak without interruption.

In relation to the latter point, Deputy Murphy put to me his concerns regarding the process being anti-democratic. What would be anti-democratic is a failure to take account of the fact that the majority of unions have voted for the agreement. That is what I have done.

Because of FEMPI. That is why it is anti-democratic.

What the Deputy has put to me is how we make use of the benefits of a recovery that he alleged would never happen.

Is there a financial emergency or a recovery? The Minister cannot have both at once.

There should be only one speaker at a time.

Deputy Paul Murphy said in the House on a number of occasions that the very kind of change in the economy that is enabling this would never happen, and because it is now happening, we are in a position to hire 18,000 more public servants-----

There are more people on lower pay. That is the strategy.

-----and to honour the commitments we have made.

We never said there would not be economic growth. The question is whether the benefits of that growth would accrue to the majority or to a tiny elite. That is why we raise this issue. It is extraordinary, cynical and laughable for the Minister to suggest that FEMPI was not a major factor in essentially threatening people with a stick or sword over their head and saying that if they did not sign up to the Lansdowne Road agreement they would not get their increments and allowances. Could the Minister confirm that this is what he is going to do - namely, that the gardaí and the members of the ASTI are not going to get their allowances and increments? Does the Minister expect anything other than major industrial strife and justified resistance from teachers and gardaí if he goes ahead and does that?

We have a motion on the Dáil Order Paper calling for the rescinding of FEMPI. We are having a debate because we kicked up last week about this.

Will we have the right to vote on the motion so that Members can at least show their colours in terms of their attitude to restoring the pay and conditions of public sector workers?

The latter question is a matter for the Business Committee of the Dáil, as Deputy Boyd Barrett well knows. The ordering of the business is now done by this House rather than by me as Minister or by the Government. It is a matter for the House.

As the adjectives the Deputy ascribes to me get more extreme, could we just look at some of the points and facts about the Lansdowne Road agreement? It is a fact that the largest percentage gains under the agreement accrue to those on lower incomes first, and that the people who gain the most from the agreement are those who are paid the least in the public service.

Those on more than €65,000 benefit following the pay restoration provided for under the Haddington Road agreement. The Minister well knows that.

The Minister should be allowed to speak without interruption.

The figures are very clear. The moment one puts facts on the record, those who call for new politics the loudest do not want to hear. They want to stop the discussion.

That is not a fact.

The facts are clear. The benefit for people who are earning €23,000 per year is an 8.7% increase.

The Minister is getting an 8% increase.

That is needed in recognition of the contribution those people make every day in the delivery of public services.

They had their pay and conditions slashed by FEMPI.

I go back to many of the points-----

That is so patronising when the Minister is cutting people's pay.

When one attempts to put arguments to the people who tabled questions, they have no interest in what one has to say.

We hear the Minister.

I have said again and again-----

The time is up now.

-----and I am happy to do so again, in case the Deputy did not hear me when I said it earlier, that I recognise the huge contribution public servants make in classrooms-----

They are sitting in the Gallery and they have heard the Minister say that at least five times.

-----and offices, the Garda-----

They want to see the money back in their pay packets.

Deputy Smith should be fair.

I recognise that again and again. Our ability to restore their wages and to increase them over time does depend on the future ability of the State to pay for that.

The annual cost to the State of all the measures the Deputies are asking me to repeal is more than €2 billion.

That could be collected in corporation tax.