Monday 25 March 2019

€75m joke: 12 public sector perks the Government won’t cut

Cormac Murphy and Clodagh Sheehy

REFORM Minister Brendan Howlin has reduced the €1.5bn allowances bill for public sector workers by just €3.5m as the Government backed down on cutting perks.

This means the Government has fallen short of the €75m targeted for savings from reducing allowances.

The move was described as a ‘joke’ today.

Here are 12 of the perks:

Chester Beatty Library boxmaking allowance: The business case for retaining the allowance said it is necessary for the continuing “housing and conservation” of collections in the library in special boxes. Staff members receive up to €20 for each box.

National Museum of Ireland camera allowance: For the operation of all security equipment in the camera room on a 24 hour basis in the museum on Kildare Street. It was argued that the duties attached to this allowance do not form part of the core duties for science and arts attendants. No amount was given.

National Museum of Ireland lock up allowance: Staff members receive this allowance for the daily lock up of the Kildare Street site and security checks. It was argued that the duties do not form part of the core duties for the majority of science and arts attendants. No amount was given.

Inland fisheries eating on site allowance: This is described as compensation for lunch breaks taken away from the “designated base”. In return for this allowance, the Government receives the agreement of operatives to take their lunch break away from the base. The department is working on revising their rotas and are hoping to eliminate the payment. No amount was given.

Civil service footwear allowance: This agreement was made in 1990 when staff agreed to wear black or navy shoes along with their uniform. The cost of this allowance is €65. Only a relatively small number of staff qualify for it.

Bus allowance for CSO staff: Given to six full-time tourism enumerators at Dublin Airport with a daily rate calculated at €4.40. The Central Statistics Office said the case was “hard to justify” as it paid the Dublin Airport Authority for parking facilities at the airport. But ceasing the allowance “might cause some Labour Relations issues” and “affect the level of co-operation from enumerators.”

Delivery and footwear at chief state solictor’s office: A “special” allowance of €47.92 weekly is paid to service officers for the delivery of post before 9.15am, so that staff have received it before going to court. Four service officers also receive a €65 annual footwear allowances to attend the post office and assist in moving legal files in and at court.

Tourism Ireland directors travel allowance: The perk entitles the three staff who currently receive it to claim €4,952. As a result of the Financial Emergency legislation of January 2010 this was reduced to €4,556.

Tourism Ireland unsocial hours allowance: This is a form of overtime payment. It is most usually claimed by staff for weekend work at events.

Civil Service forklift allowance: An allowance for driving a forklift. “This duty is necessary. Very few officers across the civil service are in receipt of this,” the argument for its retention states. No amount is given.

Civil Service paperkeeper allowance: When the Paperkeeper grade was abolished, staff who worked alongside the former Paperkeeper “were unhappy about not getting the increased pay”. The duties of the former Paperkeeper included “the control of supplies and stationery”. No amount was given.

Chief state solicitor’s allowances: €5,617.16 is paid annually to a member of the office. It was argued it represents good value for money as the Office provides a legal service to the AG and Government which requires contact with staff outside normal working hours.

The climbdown on allowances, which cost the taxpayer €1.44bn, a year was today described as “an utter joke”.

And Mr Howlin was accused of performing one of the most humiliating u-turns in this Government’s term.

Opposition politicians said the Labour minister gave in to his fear of trade unions after an “intense lobbying campaign”.

Paltry savings of just €3.5m were announced by Mr Howlin, even though €75m had been promised.

Economist Dr Constantin Gurdgiev told the Herald: “It's not a good signal. It shows the Government is heading rapidly down the slippery slope of only delivering on tax increases. That is extremely unfortunate. You cannot tax your way out of a recession.”

And Mark Fielding, chief executive of ISME, which represents small and medium businesses, said the U-turn is “an utter joke”. He said that Ireland was being turned into a “laughing stock” by not stopping such allowances.

The allowances include a series of bizarre payments for underwear, minding keys, driving forklifts and box making.

“Clearly the minister came under huge pressure from the public sector unions and he did a complete U-turn in what can only be described as a humiliating climbdown,” said Fianna Fail finance spokesman Micheal McGrath.

”I think (the issue) was far more complicated than what the minister understood it to be. It doesn't augur well for the challenges that the Government faces over the next number of months.”

Dr Gurdgiev told the Herald the allowances are a “legacy of social partnership” but that they should be scrapped across the board.

He said abandoning the plans is “another U-turn by the Government when it comes to any sort of change”.

But Minister Howlin pointed out that public sector numbers are expected to be reduced to 292,000 by the end of this year – 2,000 over target.

He also said the overall spend on overtime has fallen by €150m since 2010.

“The Government has consistently aimed to contain or reduce the pay-related costs of delivery of services. The aim is to reduce the total cost of the Exchequer pay bill by some €3.8bn in the period from 2009 to 2015,” the minister said in a statement.

According to Mr Fielding of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprise Association, Mr Howlin “has to take the blame for leading us to believe he could bring in these cuts.”

“Giving allowances for the introduction of franking machines which stopped people from having to stick out their tongues to lick stamps, a ‘Mrs Doyle’ allowance for chaplains, a working in the dark allowance in education, Its turning it into an utter joke.

“Staff of small businesses are taking cuts left right and centre and managers are not taking salary rises. So many people are working short time and the cossetted public sector is getting ‘raised eyebrow allowances”.

But while existing State employees have been spared, young staff will face cuts.

Teachers' representatives say they are to “look at” the legality of the decision to abolish some allowances for new entrants only.

Under plans announced by the Coalition, established teachers will retain a raft of allowances worth more than half a billion euro annually.

But new entrants will not receive any qualification allowances, which are worth about €4,500 a year to individual staff members with an honours degree in education.

It means the mainly younger teachers will earn about 20pc less than their colleagues whose pay and allowances are protected by the Croke Park Agreement.

“It is grossly unfair to single out one section. We have not been consulted. This was done behind closed doors. We are calling on Minister Howlin to be decent and fair about this,” Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) general secretary Pat King said today.

However, he did not specify what action would be taken, other than to call on Mr Howlin to reverse his decision.

Only one of 1,100 different payments will be cut from existing members of the public service after the Cabinet caved in to union opposition.

More than 100 allowances being paid currently to civil servants will be halted for new entrants to those posts.

The review of the 800 allowances was a big initiative planned by Mr Howlin for this year. He had planned to get €75m in savings this year and €150m next year – almost as much as the target for the Household Charge.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News