Thursday 27 July 2017

Fears of chaos in public sector as 6,500 staff prepare to retire

Pat Spillane, pictured at home in Templenoe, Co Kerry, one of many teachers who has opted for early retirement.
Pat Spillane, pictured at home in Templenoe, Co Kerry, one of many teachers who has opted for early retirement.

Anne-Marie Walsh, Tom Brady and Edel O'Connell

An estimated 6,533 state workers are about to leave under the Government's early retirement deal -- sparking fears of chaos across public services.

The glut of retirements is expected before the end of next month as public servants rush to leave before their pensions are hit by deep cuts from March.

Already the fallout from the impending deadline is having an impact. The retirement of cleaning and catering staff before the pension cuts come into force has sparked a row in the HSE over gaps in services at Castlebar General Hospital.

Following the February 29 deadline, pensions will be hit by cuts that have already slashed public sector salaries by up to 15pc.

Unions accused management of having no contingency plans in place to cope with the fact that most of the year's retirements are likely to take place within weeks.

It remains difficult to get firm figures on the applications so far, or where the potential understaffing blackspots will be, even though it is just over a month before the deadline.

Gardai are facing a potential management crisis, as more than 30 towns nationwide are left without a top-ranking officer due to retirements and a ban on hiring.

Already this week, one chief and five superintendents have handed in their notice, bringing the number of vacancies for these ranks up to 17 and 43, respectively.

Some key employers, including the Health Service Executive, appear to be working off forecasts that are more than a month old.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said approximately 7,000 people have applied to retire before the end of the current pensions 'grace period'.

But many of the figures supplied by individual departments in an Irish Independent survey -- that showed 6,533 workers may go -- were expressions of interest, rather than actual applications.

The spokeswoman said the total workforce is expected to reduce by 6,000 by the end of the year, as Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin plans limited recruitment of frontline staff.

However, unions in the largest sector -- health -- claimed there are no backup plans in place to keep services running smoothly.

"These retirements will not get any more workers out of the system than would be going anyway, it will just accelerate the retirements that would take place over the course of the year," said senior SIPTU official Paul Bell. "We are facing a very serious crisis in the HSE West. A total of 500 employees have signed up, and 300 of them are nurses, predominantly in mental health services."

"It's totally indiscriminate. Anybody could go and it doesn't matter how essential your skill is."

Mr Howlin has admitted the exodus will present a "real test of the Croke Park agreement" when it comes to flexible work practices and relocating staff.

He previously asked for staff to give three months' notice of retirement plans, pointing out that it would be "critical" for managers to be on top of the figures in order to protect services.

But workers, who have no legal obligation to give more than a month's notice, are still making up their minds.

Irish Independent

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