Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Ceisteanna (195)

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

195. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to commence talks with unions on public sector pay. [18243/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (4 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Public)

This question returns to the issue of public sector pay and the Minister's plans to commence talks with the unions. He says this process is under way. Earlier I raised the issue of those groups that fall outside the ICTU umbrella. Is there a parallel process taking place and are officials talking to An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces and so on?

I will not read a prepared reply to this question because we have already covered the ground in a number of other questions.

The Haddington Road process was my first direct exposure to the structure of this type of broad-ranging, general public sector talks. These talks are, of necessity, complicated, because we have approximately 290,000 public sector workers, somewhat less than the 300,000 plus we had. The various groups have individual concerns and are paid in different ways. The way the process works is that we have a lead from the public service union side of the ICTU delegation, that is the main players in the public services committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. They deal in the plenary negotiations with my lead negotiators from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, backed up by negotiators from key line Departments, those with large numbers, such as the Departments of Health, Education and Skills and Environment, Community and Local Government. Other groups are not part of ICTU qua ICTU, like An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces. They have bilateral discussions with my officials and bilateral discussions with ICTU. In that way they are kept in the loop and can feed into the process.

On the last occasion we had talks, public sector pensioners felt excluded from the process. I advised they should form their own organisation and they have done that and I have met with that umbrella organisation on a couple of occasions. I have instructed my officials to keep in touch with its representatives during the current discussion process and to keep them in the loop in terms of any issue that may impact on them and their remuneration.

The Minister said earlier there will be no rowing back in respect of allowances and the reform of allowances. In respect of the issue of productivity and additional work hours, are these on the table and does the Minister envisage any review, reform or removal of the conditions imposed? In his thinking generally on the reinstatement of pay, will the Minister be looking for further productivity concessions from the unions and public sector workers?

In terms of productivity generally, my Department was set up with two objectives. First, it had a public expenditure role, to work towards a deficit of less than 3% of GDP and this has been the overarching fiscal imperative of the Government for the past four years. Now that we have reached that, we have set a new horizon, in accordance with the fiscal rules voted upon by the Irish people, and we are working towards our mid-term objective, the MTO.

Parallel to that and equally important has been the reform agenda - reform of the public service and reform of the political sphere, in terms of FOI and all the rest. I have said that reform is now hardwired into our public services and just as every progressive private sector company will look for innovation and ways of doing things better and more efficiently, so will the public services. We will not just do this in the period of the crisis, but forever, because the more efficient we become, the more resources I can redeploy - what I describe as the "reform dividend" - into providing more front-line services for crucial services delivered by people, for example, An Garda Síochána, nurses, teachers and special needs assistants. That will be the ongoing objective of Government strategy.