Labour Court plays key role in public pay dispute

While Ireland's Labour Court in May 1997 rejected a claim by a key group of health workers for formal pay parity with nurses, the actual pay increases it proposed fell only marginally short of what the workers concerned were demanding.

Following the settlement of the public service nurses pay dispute (IE9702104N), health workers, prisons officers, police and other public service groups have been seeking follow-on increases based on parity claims - all of which relate to the settlement secured by Ireland's 25,000 nurses.

The most recent group to secure an award were 3,700 health service professionals or paramedics, who engaged in industrial action for almost two weeks before the Labour Court intervened in their dispute. The Court's recommendation, made in early May 1997, was accepted by the Government, health service management and the trade union representing the workers concerned, IMPACT.

The paramedics failed to sustain their historical parity link with the nurses, but the Court proposed they should be paid an average increase of 12.5% - just 2 percentage points short of the nurses deal. This is a once-off increase allowable under the" restructuring" or local bargaining clause of the PCW national central agreement, which preceded the current agreement, Partnership 2000 (IE9702103F). The payment is in addition to agreed national cost-of-living increases under both of these agreements.

On the parity issue, the Labour Court was mindful of the intent in recent centralised national agreements - namely, that traditional pay linkages which date back over 50 years in some cases, should be replaced by a more productivity-related system. It was for this reason that the Court, while it understood the union's case in historical terms, stated that "in the circumstances now prevailing" the case for parity was no longer fully sustainable.

The Court's finding will have given some relief to officials in the Department of Finance who were under increasing pressure to hold the line on pay demands prior to the calling of Ireland's general election, which takes place on 6 June 1997.

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