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Thursday 18 September 2014

Sack threat to bad public servants part of 'new Croke Park'

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

Published 26/11/2012 | 05:00

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THE Government plans to make it easier to sack bad workers from the public sector under its new Croke Park deal.

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Staff who showed an interest in retiring earlier this year, but then backed out, are also to be enticed into a new voluntary redundancy scheme to reduce numbers.

The Coalition wants to get the public sector working more like the private sector -- as it enters talks with trade union leaders on Wednesday on an extension of the existing Croke Park deal.

Enhanced ways to reward good performers and also to deal more effectively with lazy or poor workers will be on the negotiating table with unions.

"It's about productivity and changing work practices, but also about being able to get rid of people easier who are simply not performing," a minister told the Irish Independent.

Although negotiating these changes will be extremely difficult, union leaders are desperate to avoid another pay cut for their members.

And details will have to be worked out over the course of the talks to agree a new way for workers' performance to be measured.

Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin promises to keep pay for the " vast bulk of public servants" at its current levels.

Mr Howlin is warning public sector workers they will have to "work longer, and more cleverly and in different, smart ways".

The minister plans to reduce the public sector pay bill by an extra €1bn by 2015 -- on top of the €3.3bn reduction already targeted.

In return for maintaining pay levels, the Government wants wide-ranging changes to work practices with in the public sector.

Among the items on the table in the talks with unions are practices borrowed from the private sector, including:

* Exchange of staff between the public and private sector.

* Performance measurement.

* Shared services.

* Outsourcing.

* Changes to the working week.

* Reductions in overtime and premium pay.

Ministers believe the new agreement will provide the opportunity to bring in changes to the public sector that have not been possible to date.

The Coalition believes the desire of the unions to avoid a flat rate pay cut puts changes to work practices on the table that were previously regarded as inconceivable.

"We don't just want people to work longer. It's about performance and delivery of services to the public," a senior government source said.

The Government also has to use the deal to continue to reduce the numbers in the public sector to 280,000.

Thus far, the numbers in the public sector have come down from 320,000 to 292,000.

Government sources say the bid to "shave off the other 10,000 has come a bit unstuck".

The Coalition is going to offer a new voluntary redundancy scheme that will seek to entice those who thought about going for early retirement or redundancy earlier this year -- but then backed off after crunching the numbers.

Mr Howlin said last week the Government was examining how to achieve a more efficient and focused public service.

"Some things can be done better in the private sphere," he said.

"The public service is unique in providing quality services across education, healthcare and many other areas which I am determined not only to preserve, but to enhance," he said.

Mr Howlin also said he did not discriminate between public and private sector workers.

"Employees are workers and should be respected as such. Working in the private sector does not automatically mean working in a sweatshop or in appalling conditions.

"Some of the best workplace conditions are in the private sphere," he said.

Mr Howlin said public servants would be getting year-long placements in private companies as part of his public sector reform plans.

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