Ministers' drivers 'sleep deprived and overworked'
Union calls for new contractual framework to resolve concerns
Ministerial drivers ferrying Cabinet members around the country are sleep deprived and fatigued due to a lack of rest periods - and certain drivers are also forced to pay for their own B&B on overnight trips, it has been claimed.
Most Cabinet members officially lost their Garda drivers in 2011 as part of a radical cut in the ministerial motor fleet.
Instead, civilian drivers were hired for ministers, as well as the Ceann Comhairle and the Attorney General.
This had been the arrangement for ministers of state for some years. Garda drivers and State cars were retained only for the President, the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste, and the Minister for Justice and Equality, on security grounds.
It was also decided that official cars and Garda drivers would no longer be provided to former taoisigh and former presidents, except for important State occasions.
The move aimed to release a substantial number of gardai for regular policing duties.
Now, Impact trade union says many of the civilian drivers are overworked and severely fatigued.
It has submitted a claim for an "employment control framework" to bring about "standardisation" of pay and working conditions for all drivers. Employee contracts are agreed within guidelines issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER).
But the rules were not being followed "consistently" by all departments, according to union chiefs. This has caused serious variations in pay and other payments, it claimed.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, national secretary Andy Pike said working hours, rest periods, holidays and the payment of a "Sunday premium" were all of serious concern to workers.
Under current arrangements, drivers were not "guaranteed" sufficient sleep and adequate rest periods.
When civilian drivers were introduced, the recruitment process was somewhat "adhoc", meaning employees were given different "conditions of service".
"We have serious concerns about rest periods. There is a piece of legislation which says you have to have 11 hours' rest between finishing and starting work. However, when for example, a driver is asked to take their minister from Dublin to Donegal for a function, they may be bringing the politician back very late on the same day.
"If the minister has to stay overnight, does the driver stay overnight, or does he have to go home to Dublin, and then return very early in the morning? There are circumstances where a driver does not qualify for an overnight claim, so they either have to stay at the same location as the minister at their own expense, or drive back home to the greater Dublin area. If they do that they have to set off far too early in the morning to pick the minister up at 9am.
"It's a real worry when a driver has to return to Dublin, and then set off very early in the morning, meaning they're not getting an 11-hour rest period." He pointed out that drivers were fully briefed on their health and safety obligations. If they felt tired, they were obliged to inform the minister that they were unable to continue with the journey.
"We're seeking to put a new contractual framework in place," he added.