Thursday 19 January 2017

Top-earning civil servants escape wage restraints in austerity drive

Published 28/11/2010 | 05:00

The number of higher principal officers in the civil service who earn up to €106,000 a year has risen by a whopping 462 per cent in just over 10 years -- and they won't be touched by the four-year austerity plan they helped to prepare for Finance Minister Brian Lenihan.

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There has also been a 60 per cent increase in the number of assistant secretaries who earn up to €146,000 a year. Paying the wages of the 150 assistant secretaries, up from just 94 in 1998, is now costing the State nearly €22m a year -- and that massive pay bill will remain untouched despite the Government's recovery plan.

The Department of Finance's estimated public sector pay bill for 2010 is €16bn, more than a quarter of the estimated Government budget of €61bn

But while the Government will cut the minimum wage by a €1 under the plan, the Croke Park deals copperfastens pay for civil servants already in the system -- though new entrants will come in at 10 per cent below current pay scales. Ironically, the pay of TDs and senators is linked respectively to that of principal officer and assistant principal grades in the civil service. And because civil servants' pay will not be cut under the Croke Park deal, neither will the wages in the Dail and Seanad where backbench TDs earn up to €98,424 depending on length of service.

The feather-bedding and massive job creation drive among in the upper echelons of the civil service took place between 1998 and 2009.

Numbers employed at the standard principal officer grade rose from 291 to 415 -- a 43 per cent increase by September last year.

But the number of assistant principals on the higher grade who earn more than €84,000 at the top scale rose by a staggering 339 per cent.

Similarly, the number of ordinary assistant principals also rose, albeit not at the same rate. There are now 1,331 assistant principals, compared with 825 in 1998, earning up to €76,000.

The figures back up claims made by the Civil, Public and Services Union general secretary Blair Horan, who represents lower paid public servants.

He has argued that the top brass of the public service looked after themselves during the boom and now lower paid workers in the public sector are being asked to pay the price.

The number of clerical officers, the lowest grade in the civil service, rose just 14 per cent between 1998 and 2009.

Last week the Sunday Independent revealed that despite the so-called pay freeze, agreed under Croke Park, tens of thousands of public sector workers were still getting annual pay increases by way of long-service increments.

But the Department of Finance has defended the increments system. In response to queries from the Sunday Independent, a department spokesman said: "Suspending increments would have an uneven impact and would disproportionately affect lower paid staff.

"Higher paid public service grades have, in general, significantly shorter incremental scales than lower paid staff and consequently more of them are at the maxima of scales.

"Some higher paid grades do not have incremental scales at all and their salaries are single points, eg secretaries general, county managers, senior staff of the HSE, chief executives of State bodies, judges, presidents of universities. These would not, therefore, be affected by a suspension of increments whereas, for instance, a clerical officer in the civil service, a nurse, a garda would be affected," the spokesman added.

Last week businessman Dermot Desmond, whose father was a career civil servant, severely criticised the lack of accountability in the civil service.

"Today the senior management of the service can't take criticism, abandon their responsibilities to a bewildering array of quangos, become suspicious of success and are never accountable."

He said he had written to government departments with suggestions but had not received an acknowledgement in most cases.

"It's my experience that if you challenge these people they will endeavour to make you persona non grata," said Mr Desmond.

The gross Exchequer bill for pay, combined with public sector pensions, currently stands at just under €19bn and makes up more than a third of spending.

The Government plans to cut public sector staff levels by 24,750, bringing it back to 2005 levels, and reduce pay for new entrants by 10 per cent.

It also plans to reduce the public sector pay bill by €1.2bn during the four-year period. Half of the reduction in public sector staff numbers has already been achieved, according to the Government.

Compulsory redundancies of public sector workers have been ruled out. That means the cuts will be achieved through natural wastage, non-compulsory voluntary redundancies and incentivised severance packages.

Sunday Independent

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