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Wednesday 29 March 2017

Strikers get €1.74m overtime pay to clear passport backlog

Edel Kennedy

PASSPORT office workers who caused chaos during their controversial work-to-rule action doubled their overtime payments in order to clear the backlog.

Workers earned a record €1.74m in overtime to help ease the crisis after a backlog of almost 71,000 applications developed after a disruptive six-month campaign of industrial action, figures obtained by the Irish Independent revealed.

The money -- paid until mid-September -- far exceeds the €842,684 paid in overtime for all of last year.

While the monthly average overtime bill in 2008 was €46,108, it soared to €193,614 each month to date this year, the figures revealed.

The number of temporary workers drafted in also rose from 39 last year to 52. They earned a total of €265,201 in basic pay -- and an additional average of €5,968 each in overtime.

A spokesman said there were a number of factors for the increase in overtime this year in addition to the industrial dispute. These included a peak in 2010 applications and water damage caused to a printing machine.

However, applications also soared as potential travellers worried that it would take many months for their passport to be processed as a direct result of action taken by the Civil Public and Services Union (CPSU). Last year an average of 11,144 passports were processed each week -- but at one stage this year, 4,000 applications were received daily.

Damaged

"During 2010, the printing machine in Molesworth St was damaged due to flooding and all production had to be done at our facility at Balbriggan," the spokesman told the Irish Independent.

"It was literally raining inside here and it took a week to dry out. It blew the power units in the machine and press."

As a result the two processing units in Balbriggan are continuing to print a greater number of passports while an assessment is carried out into the damaged machine.

"There was also a marked increase in applications. A lot of people went away for the Millennium in 2000 so they were getting their passports renewed.

"And in 2004 we ceased giving 10-year passports to minors under 18 and they only got a five-year passport.

"So they all came up for renewal."

The number of passports processed in 2007 peaked at 601,000, or 50,083 per month. This fell back to 576,617 the following year before rising marginally to 579,508 last year.

Up until September 19 this year, 498,210 were processed -- an average of 58,613 per month. An average of 10,000 additional passports were processed each month this year when compared to last year.

Records showed a three-page letter was sent to the staff on March 23 from the department's secretary general, David Cooney, warning they would lose pay if there were any further counter closures.

He said that while he did not dispute their right to protest against pay cuts, it was "painful" to see the reputation of the Passport Office undermined.

He pointed out that their actions were causing "distress and inconvenience" to "our customers and fellow citizens".

"On Friday, I witnessed staff pulling down the shutters in the faces of members of the public, many of who had been waiting for several hours to be served," he wrote.

He acknowledged staff were experiencing abuse from members of the public, and said it was unacceptable, even if the reasons for their anger were understandable.

He also refuted claims by the CPSU that management was acting with "Machiavellian" intentions.

"Let me be clear. The management of this department do not and will not play Machiavelli with our staff," he said.

Irish Independent

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