Saturday 21 October 2017

Howlin foiled in plan to cut civil service days off

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

NEW Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin was last night unable to say how he planned to get rid of extra days off for public servants as proposals for public-sector reform were thrown out after an arbitration hearing.

The Government had planned to reduce or abolish completely civil servants' entitlement to an extra day off at Christmas and at Easter -- what are known as 'privilege days'.

It claimed the move would have saved €4.6m -- based on a simple calculation of the number of civil servants, the number of extra days they got and their average pay.

The department said it would get extra productivity from staff doing two more days' work in the year -- though it could not give details of how that would work in practice or how the savings would be made.

But yesterday the unions succeeded in preserving their members' rights to the privilege days after a civil service dispute's body delivered a damning verdict on the State's case for change.

Mr Howlin talked tough after the decision, saying it was disappointing that the unions could not engage in a more positive manner.

He promised to pursue the issue of privilege days across the public service.

But he gave no commitment last night that he would put an end to what was officially described as an "archaic practice" dating back to pre-Independence days.

The Department of Finance had argued that getting rid of privilege days would save €4.6m -- and would be the equivalent of having 60 extra people working in the civil service "at no additional cost".

But the Civil Service Arbitration Board said it had not shown that getting rid of the privilege days would lead to "real savings" or "enhanced services to the public".

It was not clear last night why the board insisted there would be no real savings and, in a damning verdict on the department's submission, it said there was no "clearly reasoned explanation" of the benefits of the change.

The decision would have affected less than one-third -- or around 10,000 -- of the 36,700 people in the civil service. Those who stood to lose the most were those who had 30 to 31 days' annual leave, such as the assistant principals, who are on salaries of €67,000 upwards, and principal officers, whose salaries are €80,000 upwards.

They would have lost both privilege days.

Lower-paid civil servants, who have 29 days' annual leave, would have been given an extra day's leave, while staff with less than 24 days' annual leave would have been given two days' extra leave.

But following the rejection of the plan by the arbitration board, the Department of Finance will now have to go back to the drawing board to deal with privilege days for civil servants, local authority workers and HSE employees.

A department source indicted that one single policy might be prepared -- but could not say if it would lead to the abolition of privilege days entirely.

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