Public servants enjoy time off despite austerity
Croke Park Agreement protecting 'privilege days' while private sector returns to work
PUBLIC servants continued to enjoy additional leave this Christmas while private sector workers returned to work.
The majority of county councils and other state bodies remained closed this week, with some not feeling the need to tell the public when they would re-open.
Many libraries and public buildings won't open until next Tuesday.
Despite the fact that the country is on its knees and has been forced to introduce austerity measures, the privileged public sector leave days are ring-fenced by the Croke Park Agreement, which has the support of the Government -- for the moment.
Last week, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin told this newspaper that government support for the Croke Park Agreement was conditional that reform in the public sector was achieved.
Some public servants are entitled to up to six weeks' holidays per year, while those in the private sector mainly get four weeks off annually.
Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar indicated that the Government had been frustrated by the shackles of the Croke Park Agreement but believed it must be maintained despite it already hampering the Government's attempts to introduce immediate reforms.
"One issue that concerns me is that the decision-making system that we have inherited is still too slow. It takes three times as long to get things done," he said.
"The Government is determined to make progress in this area in the year ahead.
"Thousands of public servants are going to retire in the spring before the pension rules change. This will be a big test for the Croke Park Agreement. Everyone will have to change the way they work and how their service is run due to the exodus. If Croke Park is worth the paper it is written on, we will be able to cope with the impact of the exodus on services," he said
"Privilege days may have been added to annual leave but government departments and offices opened between Christmas and the New Year in 2011.
"This was a big change, if long overdue," he added.
Brendan McGinty, director of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, insisted the Croke Park Agreement should be reviewed.
"Amalgamating privilege days with core annual leave for serving public sector staff will simply embed the cost of an outdated practice into an already unsustainable public sector pay bill. Similar practices are unheard of in the private sector.
"The business community is increasingly sceptical that Croke Park can deliver what was promised.
"We believe it is now time for the agreement to be reviewed. Its implementation was conditional on no unforeseen budgetary constraints; surely we are at that point," he said.
Earlier this year, the Government failed to totally abolish 'privilege days' within the public sector, which they claimed would lead to annual savings of €4.6m. 'Privilege days' no longer exist in name but have been amalgamated with annual leave.
A spokesperson for the Department of Finance confirmed that the 'privilege days' had been amalgamated.
Privilege days date back to British rule when staff were given two additional days off to mark the king's birthday and Empire Day.
However, the concept has survived, with staff given additional leave at Christmas and Easter.