Benchmarking body recommends public sector pay awards
July 2002 saw the publication of the report of the Public Service Benchmarking Body (PSBB), set up to establish fair comparisons between the pay of public service workers and similar groups in the private sector. It recommends public sector pay increases averaging 8.9%. The payment of the awards recommended by the PSBB will be a key factor in the negotiation of a new national agreement later in 2002.
The Public Service Benchmarking Body (PSBB), set up in 2000 to establish fair comparisons between the pay of public service workers and similar groups in the private sector, issued its report on 1 July 2002. The PSBB's report recommends a wide range of pay increases - from 2.5% to as high as 25% - averaging out at 8.9%. The pay rises are expected eventually to add EUR 1.1 billion to the government's annual public sector wage bill. The only negotiable element of the report is precisely when the recommended increases will be paid – not the actual awards - and whether trade unions will have to concede productivity improvements.
Some of the pay submissions made by individual trade unions impressed the PSBB more than others. For example, while most teachers are set to obtain a 13% increase under the PSBB recommendations, the basic nursing grade has been awarded 8%. Furthermore, while top civil servants have been awarded almost 14%, some of their lower-ranking colleagues will receive just over 6%. Representatives of the basic grades in the three main security services - the police (awarded 5%); prison officers (4%) and army (4%) - have expressed disappointment
The immediate response of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) public services committee (PSC) – the umbrella body for all public service unions - was to seek an 'early meeting' with the Department of Finance to open discussions on the 'implementation' of the various pay recommendations. Peter McLoone, chair of the PSC and general secretary of the key public sector union, the Irish Municipal Professional and Civil Trade Union (IMPACT), said that the PSC believes that the main challenge facing the trade unions is to have the report's recommendations implemented as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, Des Geraghty, general secretary of Ireland's largest trade union, the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU), broadly welcomed the report.
The Prime Minister (Taoiseach), Bertie Ahern, noted the potentially 'horrendous' cost of implementing the report's findings. Mr Ahern warned that if any one group thought that they could do better outside the benchmarking process, 'the best of luck to them, they won't be getting it from this government'.
A key issue for the government is to spread payment of the terms recommended by the PSBB in such a way to minimise the impact on public finances. A quarter of each pay recommendation is to be backdated to 1 December 2001. However, actual payment of this 25% element is contingent on a negotiated agreement on the phasing-in of the remaining 75% of the awards.
The negotiation of a new national agreement to replace the PPF is a major target of the new Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrat coalition government formed after the general election in May 2002. A majority of the current ICTU leadership also wants a new national agreement and is expected to endorse entering talks with the government in autumn 2002. Therefore, securing the earliest possible payment of the PSBB's report, while at same time taking account of the public finances, will be crucial in ensuring that public service union members back a new national agreement.