Thursday 23 November 2017

Delays plaguing public sector reform progress

Little headway made on allowances and perks

Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

THE body charged with driving public sector reforms under the Croke Park Agreement has met six times since the deal was ratified in July, reflecting the slow progress of reforming the public sector.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that the implementation body met twice in July, twice in September, once in October and once in November, racking up just €114.62 in the cost of refreshments and an annual fee of €29,888 to its chairman Mr PJ Fitzpatrick.

The documents show how the process has been beset with delays, with An Garda Siochana and the Defence Forces meeting for the first time last month to implement reforms, while hospital consultants and the prison service have yet to begin the process.

It appears that little headway has been made in getting civil servants to give up their allowances and other perks.

The Psychiatric Nurses Union has yet to join the talks in a dispute over a a €5,000-a-year "community allowance" paid to nurses. The union argues that the allowance could fall outside the terms of the Croke Park deal and says it has been waiting for "clarification" on the issue since May. The allowance is paid to psychiatric nurses who work in the community to compensate them for loss of overtime and other pay allowances they can earn in hospitals.

The Civil and Public Service Union (CPSU) objected to Department of Finance plan to abolish 30-minute "bank time" to cash cheques, even though most salaries are paid electronically, and to eliminate privilege days at Christmas and Easter. "We have made it crystal clear to Finance that there can be no question of taking privilege days off CPSU grades given our low level of leave," the union said in an internal memo.

The Croke Park deal was ratified by trade unions four-and-a-half months ago after they promised greater efficiencies in return a four-year wage freeze and no compulsory redundancies. Pay cuts could even be reversed if savings are delivered.

It was thought the agreement would be targeted in the Government's four-year national recovery plan published last week, given that public sector wages account for 70 per cent of government spend. Instead, the Government ring-fenced public sector pay, saying it expects to save €1.2bn from greater productivity among public servants, redeployment and efficient work practices.

The implementation body was established in July to oversee talks between public sector unions and management on redeploying staff and greater flexibility in return for the public sector pay freeze and job protection. Considerable progress has been made, particularly in health, with nurses and health staff redeployed from hospitals in Cork, Limerick, Meath and Drogheda and in the west. However, few of the proposed cost-saving reforms, such as redeployment, greater flexibility and less sick leave, have yet been implemented across the sector.

Minutes of meetings show that much of the implementation body's time was taken up with procedural and structural issues. Several departments and agencies missed the deadline for submitting action plans for implementing reforms.

Sub-groups set up to implement reforms at local level were required to report back to the implementation body. Last month, some of their reports were found wanting. A report on reforms submitted by local government group was deemed not comprehensive enough. The education sector group was told to submit a revised action plan with more attention to timelines and redeployment. The minutes show the implementation body was still trying to come up with a "mechanism" to bring hospital consultants into "parallel talks".

The body also kicked to touch on reporting progress: "It was agreed the issue of periodic reporting on implementing the action plans may be better considered in light of any post-Budget ramifications."

The implementation body was set up in July under the chairmanship of PJ Fitzpatrick, a former head of the courts service, to drive public sector reforms.

Kieran Mulvey, the Labour Relations Commission's chief executive who helped broker Croke Park, earlier this month criticised the "scenic route" of the talks but said he was starting to see some "traction" in the Croke Park deal. He predicted that the worsening economic crisis would mean "a whole new ball game" for the deal in 2010 and said savings would have to be achieved by the spring deadline when pay will be reviewed.

The other members of the implementation body are Tom Geraghty; Sheila Nunan; Shay Cody; and Patricia King, from the trade unions; and Ciaran Connolly; Brendan Duffy; and Philip Kelly, representing public service management.

Sunday Independent

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