Tuesday, 8 March 1983
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: asked the Taoiseach if he will make a comprehensive statement on the outcome of the talks he had at his recent meeting with (a) the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and (b) the employer organisations.
The Taoiseach: As indicated in the statement issued following the separate meetings with the executive council of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and national officers of the Federated Union of Employers on 3 March, I emphasised the importance of moderate pay developments having regard to the state of the public finances and to the need, if existing jobs were to be protected and new jobs provided, for greater competitiveness in the economy.
The various options which existed in relation to negotiating pay developments were outlined. The ICTU and the FUE agreed to consider the points made and to indicate their views to the Government as quickly as possible.
I understand that the executive council of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions are meeting today and that the executive council of the Federated Union of  Employers are meeting tomorrow to agree their respective responses.
Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: Would the Taoiseach say in detail what options on pay were outlined to both bodies and also the indications, if any, given by the Government regarding such guidelines? Will he give more detail to this House than he says has already been given by way of press statement? One would expect this from the Taoiseach.
The Taoiseach: The options put forward related to the various ways in which further pay increases might be negotiated, whether by way, for example, of a national pay agreement or otherwise, in the event of a national pay agreement not being the way the unions and employers want to proceed, and as to how the Government would proceed in their own area and private employers and unions in theirs. It is on this question that the two sides are reflecting and they will be coming back to us within the next 24 hours.
Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: This is the most important issue before the House this week or, possibly, this month. What does the Taoiseach mean when he refers to a national pay agreement or otherwise? What specifically does he mean by “otherwise”? The ICTU and the FUE are meeting today and tomorrow to decide on their response to what took place at those meetings. I presume the Government had considered in advance of those meetings what their attitude to the pay guidelines should be and I want to know what it is.
The Taoiseach: I would be reluctant to say anything at this stage that might prejudice the discussions and the consideration being given to procedure by the two sides. It would be unfortunate if anything said here were to prevent the two bodies concerned from reaching freely the best conclusions they can as to the best method of proceeding.
Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: I welcome the new responsible approach of the Taoiseach to these arrangements. Would he  not agree that it is a major change from his attitude of last August, September and October when——
The Taoiseach: The state of the economy was discussed as the background against which any pay negotiations must take place and the context in which pay increases must be considered. The question of further meetings will arise when the two bodies concerned have responded to the discussions. That will be a matter for consideration as soon as they have given their replies, which I hope to receive within the next 24 or 48 hours.
Mr. Mac Giolla: The Taoiseach mentioned that he asked for moderate pay increases this year. In view of the inflation figure and the fairly savage impact which both direct tax and VAT increases are having on wages, would the Taoiseach agree that a moderate pay increase this year would mean a further reduction in living standards of workers? If this is so, will this not be the third year in succession in which workers will be asked to take a reduction in their standard of living?
The Taoiseach: National output and  income in real terms have not increased in this period by an amount which would permit any increase to take place in average living standards, though individual groups may have done slightly worse or slightly better, successive Governments seeking of course to protect particularly those least advantaged.
The Taoiseach: That is a statistical question which I would not wish to answer on the spur of the moment. I think average real wages are somewhat lower now than two years ago but I would not want to go into detail without referring to precise figures.
Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: In view of the fact that the public service pay agreement expired for all workers some time ago, would the Taoiseach not regard it as a matter of urgency that a decision by the Government should be outlined to the House as to the attitude the Government expect to be followed this year? In early September last year the Taoiseach, then Leader of the Opposition, outlined what he thought should be the pay increase in the public sector in 1983. What has changed so much since then?
The Taoiseach: We are waiting to hear from the two bodies concerned as to how they wish to proceed and I would not wish to say anything that might prejudice the constructive development of the situation.
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