Representative bodies for Gardaí and the Defence Forces have voiced fears that they are being excluded from talks on a new public service agreement.
Both the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) and the Representative Association for Commissioned Officers (RACO) expressed concerns after it emerged that talks on a successor to the Public Service Stability Agreement were progressing without the input of their staff associations.
Yesterday, the General Secretary of the largest public service union Forsa, Kevin Callinan - who leads the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Public Service Committee negotiating team - told his union's annual conference that the talks had intensified "significantly" over the last 10 days.
The PSSA expires at the end of December, and Mr Callinan warned of potential industrial chaos if no new deal is agreed by then, adding that in that scenario Forsa would be prosecuting general and sectoral pay claims on behalf of its 80,000 members.
Staff Associations for Gardaí and Defence Forces personnel are not permitted to affiliate to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and their negotiations are generally carried out through a separate strand. They do not have a right to strike.
However, AGSI General Secretary, Antoinette Cunningham told RTÉ that there was supposed to be "parity of esteem", whereby negotiations with the non-ICTU representative bodies would take place at the same time.
She said it now appeared that pay talks were happening, "...but without the involvement of all stakeholders".Ms Cunningham confirmed that this week, when AGSI put queries to Garda Headquarters regarding a PSSA successor, they were told: "… there is no meeting for Staff Associations imminent."
"We are disappointed and deeply concerned that having been guaranteed that AGSI would be part of national negotiations in relation to pay and conditions that directly affect our members, that exploratory talks are now happening without our involvement," she said.
She confirmed that AGSI's National Executive will meet next week to consider whether the parameters of a PSSA successor agreement "might already be pre-determined."
Ms Cunningham said that it this were the case, "…what role, if any do we actually have in national pay talks?"
RACO General Secretary Conor King expressed similar concerns, saying it appeared that "uniformed services" would once more have to wait until those unions with industrial action in their "armour" have concluded pre-talk negotiations with DPER before being informed of any agreed parameters.
He went on to say: ""This appears to be completely at odds with the stated aim of 'parity of esteem' for all stakeholders. Front line uniformed services such as Defence Forces and Gardaí are being denied the opportunity to shape the negotiations, but based on past experience, will presumably have the gun put to our heads in a 'take it or leave it' scenario when pay talks commence and conclude."
Mr King said the Department of Defence had informed RACO that it was unaware of the content of these exploratory talks.
"Our members are disappointed and deeply concerned that having been guaranteed that Defence Forces representative associations would have a strong voice at the negotiating table, exploratory talks are now happening without our involvement," he concluded.
Last week, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform which oversees public sector pay said "exploratory" discussions with public service unions on the potential for a new agreement that was appropriate to the country's current circumstances were ongoing.
It said it would not be appropriate to comment on the specifics relating to these engagements which should remain confidential to the parties.
The 2020 payroll bill for the state's 340,000 employees is estimated at €20.276 billion (excluding local authorities and other non-voted expenditure).
It is expected to rise to €21.786 billion next year - and a public service agreement is viewed as important in delivering a framework both deliver certainty on pay, and to promote industrial peace.