Public service unions affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions have overwhelmingly endorsed the new public service agreement.

The 'Building Momentum' deal will deliver pay rises of up to 3% over two years and unwind some cuts and additional hours imposed during the financial crisis.

Thirteen out of 17 unions backed the deal, but ratification was a foregone conclusion after the four largest unions - Fórsa, SIPTU, the INTO and the INMO - voted to accept it.

In a statement, the unions described the deal as delivering "modest" 2% pay rises skewed towards those on lower incomes over the next two years, along with a new sectoral bargaining process, which can deliver increases of up to 1% of pensionable pay.

The unions also highlighted that the deal contains strong protections against the privatisation or outsourcing of public services.

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They also note that the agreement commits the parties to harness "the unprecedented display of commitment, flexibility, hard work and agility in public service provision" during the pandemic to meet challenges including the response to Covid-19, a return to normal delivery of health and education services, Brexit, digitisation, and establishing the public service as the driver of best practice on remote working.

Fórsa General Secretary Kevin Callinan, who chairs ICTU's Public Services Committee, said Congress-affiliated unions were committed to the full implementation of the agreement, which would bring tangible benefits to those who use and provide public services.

"The pay terms represent a realistic and acceptable approach to incomes, and they are substantially skewed towards lower earners in a very challenging context of limited resources," he said.

SIPTU Deputy General Secretary John King, who also acts as secretary to the ICTU PSC, said it had been clear that there was a real appetite among members to reject austerity agreements, improve and progress pay while protecting public service delivery and jobs.

"This short, two-year agreement can deliver on these objectives while providing security in times of great uncertainty for all workers across public service," he said.

INTO General Secretary John Boyle described the pay rises of 1% per year as "modest", but said the inclusion of a sectoral bargaining fund of 1% of payroll would allow unions to address a range of long-standing claims by next February.

Meanwhile, the General Secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said the key issue for her members had been the restoration of hours to pre-2013 levels, along with safe staffing and funds to deal with nursing management outstanding claims.

"The challenges to retain staff in our health services are real. All aspects of this agreement must be fully implemented over its two-year lifetime," she warned.

Discussions with Government officials are now under way on implementation of the deal.

A number of unions who are not affiliated to congress have yet to ballot on the deal as they seek clarifications.

Representative bodies for garda and Defence Forces grades are not allowed to affiliate to congress.

They complained that they did not receive "parity of esteem" during their negotiations through a separate strand, and were presented with a "fait accompli".

Agreement will deliver stability - McGrath

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath said the agreement will deliver certainty and stability for the Exchequer, for public servants, and for the public, which relies on services provided by those workers.

He said the public service pay bill accounts for around a third of overall government expenditure, and the Government now knows exactly what the cost of that is going to be up to the end of next year.

The minister said he wanted to see industrial peace and the reforms witnessed in the last 11 months becoming permanent flexibilities, so that the agility of the public service would be embedded permanently in the system.

He described that as a "big win" for the State and the taxpayer, adding that he looked forward to see it implemented.

Mr McGrath said the pay terms reflected the work public servants, including in the health sector, had been doing over the past year and he is confident that the recovery of the economy will commence in the second half of this year, with a strong recovery in 2022, and that the two-year 'Building Momentum' deal needed to be seen in light of that.

Earlier, the minister confirmed that he would not be accepting a pay rise due later this year, adding that he expected his Government colleagues to adopt the same position.