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Thursday 14 December 2017

Little progress on achieving reforms under Croker deal

Anne-Marie Walsh Industry Correspondent

MAJOR public sector reforms contained in the under-fire Croke Park deal have yet to be agreed upon, let alone achieved, an Irish Independent investigation reveals.

Eight months since the agreement was brokered, there is little evidence the Government is making any progress on its promised "transformation" of our state sector.

Already, crucial deadlines have been missed as unions and management get bogged down in talks on key provisions of the Government's deal with 307,000 public sector workers agreed last March.

The alarming lack of progress will heap further pressure on the deal as a team of a dozen IMF officials arrive in the country to scrutinise the State's beleaguered finances.

Sources have predicted the scrapping of the agreement will be high on the agenda of the 'hit team' as it examines ways to slash the Government's crippling deficit.

Pressure is mounting on the Government to ensure improved public services are delivered as it plans unprecedented cutbacks of €15bn over four years without reneging on guarantees to public servants.

Under the deal, it cannot cut their pay or pensions again or impose compulsory redundancies before 2014.

But the public sector payroll -- which accounts for more than a third of state spending -- is now certain to be targeted.

The Croke Park deal stated teachers and lecturers should start working an extra hour a week at the start of the last school year -- which would pump 65,000 extra hours a week into the education system -- and a new teaching contract should also be in place.

But the Department of Education and Skills said discussions were still under way on the measures.

It has set a new target of January to introduce the changes in primary schools.


However, there is no timescale for secondary schools and colleges as the ASTI, TUI and IFUT would first have to re-ballot their members who voted against the deal.

The Croke Park Agreement also said measures to tackle underperforming public servants through training and disciplinary measures should be set up this year.

However, an action plan for the civil service and state agencies recently submitted by management -- seen by the Irish Independent -- states this will not now happen until next year.

Talks have only just begun on other major reforms in the deal -- including an extended working day across the health sector.

The "transformation" is only likely to accelerate in the new year as some managers have just come up with convincing plans on how they will introduce reforms.

For instance, the education sector plan had to be resubmitted last week because the committee overseeing the deal -- the Implementation Body -- did not consider it detailed enough and there was little mention of timeframes.

One senior source described the original plan as a "cut and paste job from the McCarthy report".

Union opposition may also delay a key reform -- to abolish time given to staff to cash pay cheques by the end of this month -- in the civil service and state agencies.

Lower-paid civil servants are resisting it despite the fact most of them are paid by direct debit.

Sources claimed all unions were made aware the reform was coming down the line.

They compared attempts to block the deal to "rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic" due to the extent of the fiscal crisis.

The public sector managers' action plans suggest the focus is not on radical change, but maintaining existing services.

Irish Independent

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