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Tuesday 17 September 2019

Civil service is on the brink of 'retirement cliff', union chief says

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)

Anne-Marie Walsh

The civil service is on the brink of a "retirement cliff" because more than a third of senior staff are set to retire in the next five to 10 years.

Figures revealed by a union for State workers in higher grades show almost 40pc of those in the management position of principal officer are aged over 55. In addition, 33pc of the service's 2,310 assistant principal officers and 32pc of higher executive officers are in the same age group.

By comparison, 80pc of the lower grade of administrative officer are under 40, which means junior and middle managers have made up the bulk of recent recruits.

The Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants (AHCPS) said there are 1,226 principal and assistant principal officers out of a total of 3,500 staff in these grades eligible to depart in the next five years.

This represents 35pc of the grade, who are among the management grades in a total civil service workforce of 37,436.

"There is a retirement cliff because of the number of senior people who can go in a short period of time," said Ciaran Rohan, general secretary of the AHCPS. He said a generation that joined in the late 1970s and early 1980s was now nearing retirement.

"In the main, if they have the 40 years' service needed to qualify for a full pension, they tend to go at 60. Some wait until they're 65, but they are far fewer, and fewer again would stay on up to the new compulsory retirement age of 70."

These career civil servants differ from other groups, including vets, who tend to join in their mid-30s as they need up to 10 years' experience and would stay on to get a full pension.

He said a lack of promotion opportunities for under-40s could lead to a huge loss of expertise among managers.

The union leader said the 'brain drain' would be greater than the large-scale retirements due to exit schemes on offer during the economic crisis. "I think what's coming up is more significant than that period," said Mr Rohan. "This is because the number that can go is even greater. The civil service is still playing catch-up after that. The numbers haven't been replaced and now there's a double whammy because of the number of retirements coming up.

"I'd like to think departments are focusing on succession planning and replacing key skills they've lost, like senior tax specialists in Revenue or policy analysts in Taoiseach's, Education, Environment, or Housing."

However, at the first conference of the Fórsa union last week, a motion by the Letterkenny branch urged leaders to highlight the "imbalance" between higher and frontline grades in the past, and gather data on the current situation.

The branch said between 1998 and 2009 the number of higher principal officers rose by 462pc from 60 to 337 while clerical officer numbers increased by 14pc from 9,396 to 10,735.

Irish Independent

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