Thursday 25 May 2017

Diplomats in holiday hotspots get 50 ‘hardship’ days off

Edel Kennedy

UP to 100 Irish diplomatic staff are enjoying up to 50 days' holidays a year because of the "hardship" of their postings -- in some of the most attractive cities in the world.

Staff posted at 34 cities around the world -- including Singapore, Shanghai and Warsaw -- are entitled to the extra days' holidays because they were historically deemed to be difficult countries to work in for various economic and political reasons.

However, many of the cities which are deemed hardship locations are now holiday destinations for Irish travellers.

Cities including Riga in Latvia, Tallinn in Estonia and Sofia in Bulgaria have become favourite locations for weekend breaks and stag parties.

The Irish Independent has learned that a review of the 34 locations was completed in 2009, with recommendations that some allowances and cities be downgraded -- but no changes were implemented.

A spokesman said the changes are a priority and are being negotiated.

But they are mindful of the fact that any changes would directly affect families posted abroad.

"They are also part of the broader set of challenges facing the department and our network of missions abroad at a time of less resources," he said, adding that they are trying to do "as much, if not more", with less money.

The entitlements were revealed after details emerged last month that managers of county councils were enjoying up to two months' holidays each year while senior staff at some semi-state companies get up to seven weeks off.

The 10-week holiday entitlement by some staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is more than twice the holidays enjoyed by many private-sector workers.

The DFA staff at the 34 designated locations are entitled to same number of holidays as their counterparts based in Ireland -- but the additional 'hardship days' can bring their holiday entitlement to a maximum of 50 days.

Allowance

Ambassadors at these posts earn more than €163,000 per annum -- and get an average of €10,000 per annum in an additional 'hardship allowance'. More junior workers such as clerical officers have a salary starting from €19,111 and do not get the additional allowance.

Cities are designated as having a Hardship I, Hardship II or Hardship III rating, depending on a number of criteria. These include personal security, political tension, health, environmental factors, climate and isolation. The different ratings do not affect the salary paid as the civil servant is paid as per their ranking in Ireland.

Those in the two higher categories of hardship -- grades I and II -- are also entitled to a "getting out trip" once a year up to the cost of an economy-rate return fare to Ireland.

The holiday entitlement does not include the usual nine public holidays, Christmas Day and Good Friday enjoyed by most workers.

The DFA has defended the days off. A spokesman said there are often just two officers, while others -- such as Beijing -- have four Irish staff along with additional local staff.

"Few officers get to avail of that amount of leave and hardship cannot be carried over," he said. "If you don't use it, you lose it."

He also pointed out that some holidays -- including St Patrick's Day -- are actually busier days than normal for staff posted abroad.

Some embassies were opened recently. The embassy in Tallinn was opened just nine years ago in 2002, while a new embassy was opened in Vilnius in 2006.

Other cities which are considerably more difficult for political and security reasons include Tehran in Iran, Freetown in Sierra Leone and Dili in East Timor.

The proposals contained in the 2009 review included changes to the calculation of a hardship allowance which is given to the ambassador, a reduction in the number of posts designated as hardship and a reduction in the number of 'hardship days' given.

However, no changes have been introduced. The document is currently open to comments and recommendations from the unions on what changes they believe should be implemented.

"This isn't in dispute, everyone knows changes have to be made," a spokesman for the DFA said yesterday.

"There are parts of it (hardship postings) that just don't work. There's no point in being told you have 50 days' holidays if you can't take them."

Officials are attempting to make savings by downgrading some of the postings.

Irish Independent

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