Public sector workers are urging for an increase in starting salaries within the civil and public service, arguing that current pay for new entrants is insufficient.

This demand was prominently featured at the biennial conference of Fórsa, Ireland’s largest public sector trade union, which has gathered over 700 delegates in Killarney, Co Kerry.

Fórsa General Secretary Kevin Callinan, addressing the conference, emphasised the necessity for the government to adopt a more long-term approach in its dealings with unions. “When a relationship is so flawed and unequal, the best thing you can do is leave. I’m not interested in being part of it anymore,” Mr Callinan stated, advocating for a strategic shift away from short-term policies.

In his speech, Mr Callinan criticised Robert Watt, Secretary General of the Department of Health, labelling him the “captain of the austerity ship” and accusing him of trying to mislead health workers regarding the causes of long waiting lists. The Department of Health countered these claims, stating that Mr Watt has acknowledged the significant contributions of health workers and highlighted recent improvements in waiting list times due to various initiatives.

The conference is set to debate around 200 motions, covering issues such as pay, remote working, sick leave, pensions, artificial intelligence, and the rise of the far right.

Pay Increases and Other Key Issues

A significant portion of the motions addresses the need for higher starting salaries for new entrants in the public service. Civil servant and Fórsa delegate Áine Bullock expressed that low entry-level pay is a growing concern among members. “The issue of entry-level pay has really agitated members, and I can see why it is something that comes up more and more at conferences,” she said. Ms Bullock emphasised the value of a civil service career but acknowledged the financial struggles faced by new entrants due to inadequate pay.

Despite a new public sector pay deal agreed in January, which includes a 10.25 percent increase over two and a half years and a local bargaining mechanism, there remains a strong call to use this mechanism to address low pay for new entrants. Delegates are also discussing the shortening of pay scales, the introduction of a living wage, and the establishment of an urban living allowance.

Addressing Abuse and Workplace Conditions

Concerns over abuse directed at library workers and local authority staff were also highlighted. Róisín Cronin, a local authority worker and Fórsa delegate, referenced a recent survey indicating that many staff members have faced abusive behaviour. “The report indicated that eight in ten people said that they felt they had experienced aggression,” Ms Cronin said, attributing this to the vulnerable circumstances of individuals accessing limited public services.

Sick Leave and Remote Working

The conference will also address motions on annual leave and sick leave, with calls for greater support regarding menstrual health, enhanced domestic violence leave, and better provisions for those undergoing fertility treatment, surrogacy, miscarriage, or abortion.

Remote working motions include concerns about the right to disconnect, expenses for blended working, and safeguarding work-life balance. Delegates are particularly wary of monitoring tools used by employers to track remote workers, calling for a ban on such practices.

International Solidarity

On the international front, delegates will reaffirm their support for Ukraine, condemn the ongoing violence in the Middle East, and call for a boycott and sanctions against Israel.

The Fórsa conference continues until tomorrow, with delegates aiming to make significant strides on these critical issues affecting public sector workers.

 

 

 

 

Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.