Tuesday 20 August 2019

Extra working hours imposed on public service during crash should be axed - union chief

Kevin Callinan. Photo: Mark Condren
Kevin Callinan. Photo: Mark Condren

Anne-Marie Walsh

A senior public service union chief has demanded that extra working hours imposed on staff during the crash are axed, and denied it would cost over €600m.

In his opening address to Fórsa’s civil service conference, general secretary designate Kevin Callinan disputed government estimates on the cost of reversing the cuts.

Under a previous pay deal, state workers have had to work about two extra hours a week since 2013.

Mr Callinan said a €600m figure estimate of the cost of the hours by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is at least 50pc higher than a government estimate at the time the longer working week was rolled out.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe’s department has estimated that over 11,600 new staff would have to be hired to work the extra hours if they were abolished.

But Mr Callinan claimed advances in new technologies and work organisation could defray much of the cost.

He plans to table a claim to reverse the hours during talks on a review of the current public sector pay deal.

Addressing 400 delegates at the opening of the union gathering in Kilkenny, he noted that 12 of its branches submitted motions on the increased working time – more than any other issue.

"Recent government decisions have demonstrated a good deal more flexibility over what is doable under the Public Service Stability Agreement than was previously the case," he said.

"In that context, and so long as this issue resonates with members on the ground, we have a responsibility to seek to progress it with government – and we will do that."

He said he would struggle to make a convincing argument against the motions on the extra hours in light of current economic performance.

"That’s why I have said that the restoration of pre-crisis working hours should form part of the mid-term review of the PSSA, which I have proposed."

In addition to the hours he said a temporary pay cut was introduced for higher earners at the time.

"But this has been restored in full since the beginning of last year," he said.

"So six years later we’re left with a yet another two-tier public service problem, which leaves those on low and middle incomes – especially women – losing out."

The expenditure department has refused to comment on the demands but has said that replacing the hours by recruiting new staff is unlikely.

In a report on the issue, it said this was due to factors including the "sizeable costs, existing government expenditure priorities, and already tightening labour market and finite resources."

It said it would have to factor in an increased pension liability, additional overtime costs and agency staffing.

Mr Callinan also said sectors with a strong public service bias are lagging behind the overall economy in terms of wage growth.

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