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Pathway to a Successor to the Public Sector Stability Agreement (PSSA) – What Should Be Different?

During 2020 the new Government when it takes office will be engaging with Public Sector Unions on a successor to the Public Sector Stability Agreement (PSSA) 2018-2020. The PSSA has been under pressure over deals on ‘pay restoration’ for up to 60,000 teachers, nurses, Gardaí and public sector workers hired since 2011 at a cost of an additional €200m+. The resolution of the nurses dispute in 2019 over pay and recruitment and retention difficulties resulted in a 21-month deal which has been estimated by the Department of Health and the HSE to have cost a further €149m. Doctors, Teachers, the Defence Forces and the broader public service all have issues they want resolved.

Those talks will be against the backdrop of Ireland’s public debt which stands at over €200bn (almost €100,000 per person in employment), one of the highest in the world. Overall Government expenditure in 2020 is estimated to be €80.4 billion up from €69.1 billion in 2010. Expenditure in key Departments including Health, Social Protection and Education have increased considerably in this period. For example, total expenditure in Health is predicted to increase from €15.1bn in 2010 to €18.3bn in 2020. Despite this level of investment, it cannot be said that we have achieved significantly improved service delivery outcomes for citizens.

So, a key question is what will be different this time in the approach to public service pay determination? At Stratis we believe the following elements need to inform a new approach:

a) In preparation for these negotiations the Government should commission an independent audit of the delivery of the full terms of the PSSA and insist on full delivery of unfulfilled commitments or alternatively introduce a binding mechanism through which they can be implemented. Otherwise, there is a high risk of the same commitments being re-cycled and paid for ‘on the double’ at the taxpayers’ expense in any replacement agreement.

b) We need to see clearer procedures for the resolution of IR disputes in the public sector and a legal obligation to exhausting them. Too many public service disputes take place without recourse to normal procedures and in our view where industrial action is initiated without fully exhausting procedures then the statutory immunities applicable to a trade dispute should not apply. In disputes in essential services, the legislature needs to significantly strengthen the statutory requirement to exhaust IR procedures, up to and including recourse to the WRC and Labour Court, prior to the taking of a ballot for industrial action and before a dispute can occur.

There needs to be a clearer definition of what constitutes an ‘essential service’ and there should also be a requirement to ensure the maintenance of essential services to a minimum service level during any trade dispute which would be registered as an employment agreement with the Labour Court.

c) Ireland also needs a new Independent Body to oversee public sector pay determination and to verify the delivery of commitments to productivity improvements, change and transformation. This would involve considering the job content of grades, the context (including both fiscal and economic) for setting the appropriate level of pay and all other elements of remuneration including incremental progression, working time, leave arrangements, other benefits and the full value of pension commitments for any identified groups or categories based on appropriate criteria. This would underpin an analysis of the totality of remuneration; comparing public service and private sector remuneration; and assessing international comparisons of public sector remuneration.

This Independent Body should have a mandate to secure value for money for the taxpayer, ensure fair remuneration for Public Sector workers, to support career development along with effective performance management including the delivery of essential work practice reforms.

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