Around 7,000 workers in 250 state-funded health and social care bodies known as Section 39 agencies are to receive pay rises from next month in settlement of their dispute over restoration of austerity-era pay cuts. 

Under the proposals brokered at the Workplace Relations Commission, the first of two instalments of pay restoration will see staff secure a €1,000 annual increase from 1 January. 

The second instalment - equivalent to 50% of the outstanding pay restoration due to them - will take effect from 31 May, with payment commencing in June. 

Following the settlement, Fórsa and SIPTU have agreed to call off next week's scheduled one-day strikes at Co-Action in Kerry, and Southdoc in Cork and Kerry.

Further widespread industrial action had been planned.

The HSE will advise all Section 39 organisations involved in this phase that the final date for applying for funding to accommodate this pay restoration will be 28 February 2021, and no applications submitted after this date will be considered.

The parties will reconvene at the WRC in the second quarter of 2021 to discuss the payment date for the third and final phase of pay restoration, along with a union claim for retrospective payments. 

The unions argue that workers in the 250 organisations are entitled to retrospective payments from April 2019, and that the application date of the third phase should be in line with the first 50 organisations where the difficulties were resolved. 

However, WRC Director of Conciliation Anna Perry notes: "Management maintain their position on the issue of restrospection and that the date of payment 3 will not be before January 2023."

Section 39 agencies are funded by the HSE but their employees do not have the status of public servants.

During the financial crisis their pay was cut in line with public servants but was not restored in parallel with government employees as restoration got under way.

While a resolution was found for the 50 biggest Section 39 bodies last year, the issue remained unresolved for around 250 smaller agencies. 

Fórsa official Catherine Keogh described the agreement as a "significant breakthrough".

She noted that 2020 had been an exceptionally challenging year for Section 39 employees, who held a one-day strike on the issue on 14 February, just before the pandemic struck.

"These are the workers whose professionalism and experience was called upon like never before in response to that crisis," she said.

SIPTU divisional organiser Adrian Kane said that this was the first significant breakthrough in this longrunning dispute, adding: "This interim settlement is well overdue, but it delivers money into the pockets of our members' pockets from next month and that is critically important.

"The issue of parity of treatment with colleagues in the larger section 39 employments hasn't gone away and when the parties reconvene again at the WRC in 2021 SIPTU will be fighting to ensure that all monies outstanding for our members are paid in full," he said.

Under the agreement, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions will write to the Minister for Health seeking that membership of the Dialogue Forum with Voluntary Bodies be increased to include union representatives. 

Unions believe this forum can contribute to resolving long-term structural issues in the sector.

Public servants must deliver industrial peace under new agreement

Public servants will be denied pay rises if they fail to deliver industrial peace, and to sign up to a comprehensive new dispute resolution process in a new public service agreement, according to a draft confidential document presented at negotiations. 

The document entitled "A New Way to Address Sectoral Issues - Sectoral Bargaining" proposes two avenues for government employees to secure pay rises during the currency of a successor to the Public Service Stability which expires on 31 December. 

The first traditional route is via a general pay round. 

However, this year the Public Services Committee representing unions affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is pushing for a second route via sectoral bargaining, to allow individual grade, group or category claims to be resolved.

The draft document proposes that a new Sectoral Bargaining Fund will be established to deal with "all outstanding adjudications, claims, commitments, recommendations and awards within the terms of the Fund and within the Exchequer funding limit in place."

The amount allocated for such pay increases would be expressed as a percentage of basic pay - inclusive of allowances in the nature of pay - in each sector.

"Grade or sector based claims and outstanding adjudications and awards will have to be resolved within this process," it states.

Each Sectoral Bargaining Unit can use some or all of its allocation from the SBF to address individual appropriate claims - or alternatively can elect to use it for a sectoral pay round.

If unions buy into this new structure, they will be obliged to undertake that there will be no sectoral or grade-based claims outside of the scope of the SBF process for the lifetime of the new public service agreement.

Where the funding allocated to a sector is used for an across-the-board sectoral pay round, all unions must again agree that in so doing, they may not pursue grade or pay-related claims over the same period.

In order to participate in the SBF process, unions must maintain industrial peace, and deliver "full compliance" with a comprehensive new dispute resolution process - or face serious consequences.

"Participation in the process and the implementation of its outcome will be discontinued for any group that engages in industrial action on pay or other matters covered by this Agreement," the document warns.

It also rules out any possibility of increasing the pool of money in the SBF through proposals for productivity savings. 

However, the total amount available for potential pay rises during the successor to the current Public Service Stability Agreement - and the timeframe for any actual payments under either mechanism are not yet known.

However, to avail of any increases, unions must undertake to maintain industrial peace, and not to launch cost-increasing claims during the lifetime of any new agreement. 

Traditionally public service pay rises are done through across the board pay rounds.

Unions must also cooperate with workplace change and reform as a "prerequisite" for participation, and the SBF process cannot give rise to unintended cost increasing outcomes or leap-frogging claims.

The draft confidential document published includes a timeline for how the new Fund will operate. 

Management and unions in each sector will first identify appropriate sectoral bargaining units comprised of "groups, grades or categories" of public servants within each sector.

Final Sectoral Bargaining Units must be signed off "at Oversight Group Level" by the end of February 2021.

Sectoral management and union representatives will then engage on how the SBF process will apply for each bargaining unit by the end of March 2021 - with proposals finalised by June 2021. 

Those proposals will in turn be presented to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform "to verify policy integrity and costings".