HEALTH workers are being offered an incentivised career break for three years in a desperate bid to slash staff numbers by 1,500, the Irish Independent has learnt.
A circular sent to senior management yesterday said the scheme would offer one-third of the worker's gross salary, up to a maximum of €12,000 annually, for a period of three years.
A spokeswoman for the HSE said no figure had been put on the numbers who might avail of the career breaks but that the move was part of a bid to shed around 1,500 staff of 67,000 through a range of schemes.
The Government has already proposed both a redundancy and an early-retirement scheme, though these have not yet been unveiled.
The HSE had to reduce its staff by 4,000 this year to cut its payroll and it hopes that around 2,500 of these can be found through natural wastage and non-replacement.
The circular said the terms of this scheme should be implemented across all parts of the HSE, as well as bodies which it funds.
The €12,000 pay is subject to tax and other deductions and the HSE must put in place arrangements to ensure that the final decision in relation to applications is made at a level no lower than regional senior-management level.
Staff have to apply no later than May 31 and they will have to begin the career break by July 1, although in certain circumstances this can be deferred to December 31.
It is open to employees who have satisfactorily completed two years' continuous service.
The circular says: "A career break may be allowed for family reasons, other domestic purposes, travel abroad, volun- teering overseas, self-employment or educational purposes."
The worker is not available for taking up paid employment in the State, with any agency or company providing services to a publicly funded body.
There should be no potential conflict of interest between the activity in which the person on a career break is involved in during their time away from their job.
When they return to work they will be "assigned to the next appropriate vacancy to be filled following the expiry of the career break, with a guarantee of re-employment in a relevant grade".
However, this is not not necessarily the same work or location as the one they are leaving. This can be within a 45km radius of their current work location or home.
Where an appropriate vacancy does not exist, the HSE will contact the employee at once to notify him or her of the position, indicating, where possible, when it is likely that a suitable vacancy may arise.
A previous incentivised career break, which was offered by the HSE in 2009, only attracted a couple of hundred workers. It was offering €12,500 a year.