Thursday 23 November 2017

State retirees jump queue for jobs

Jerome Reilly

Jerome Reilly

Public servants on generous retirement packages get rehired as jobless are passed over

Last Wednesday the €14bn-a-year Health Service Executive, Ireland's largest employer with more than 67,000 direct employees, and another 40,000 in funded healthcare agencies, updated its "Find a job" web pages.

In the jobs section reserved for "general support staff", the HSE informs school leavers, graduates, the short- and long-term unemployed and other job seekers desperate for work: "We regret that there are currently no vacancies in this job category."

But that isn't the exact truth. There are 30 general support jobs available of various skill levels, including grades such as ambulance officers, domestics, medical laboratory aides and porters

The reason there are "no vacancies" on the HSE website is that these 30 jobs are currently being done by former HSE staff who exited the health service by the end of last December through the Government's early retirement and voluntary severance packages.

They left the HSE with generous pension entitlements and lump sums but they hardly had time for a Christmas and New Year break before they were back on duty at hospitals around the country.

The cost to the taxpayer of rehiring these 30 general support staff to their old jobs for 2011 is €361,228, according to information supplied to the Sunday Independent by the HSE.

They say: "Retired staff are deemed to have the necessary skills and experience to provide cover for critical vacancies on a temporary basis."

Yet when it comes to grades covered by the term "general support staff" -- jobs such as cleaners and porters -- the argument is not convincing.

This is work that tens of thousands of people, currently jobless and living without the comfort blanket of good pensions and significant lump sums in the bank, could easily have been brought in to fill, even on a temporary basis.

The global cost of the HSE rehiring 686 retirees for this year will total €11,578,870. And that is on top of the €14,619,459 that bringing retirees back on to the wards and medical centres cost in 2010. This includes the €1.76m for rehiring medical staff, such as hospital consultants, house officers, senior doctors and registrars.

The biggest cost in the retire/rehire saga is in nursing where bringing back 462 staff will cost the Exchequer €7,064,614 at a time when Dublin Airport is packed to the rafters with young nurse graduates emigrating to find work in other countries.

And 48 clerical staff have been brought back this year as well as 30 health and social care professionals, including environmental health officers, medical scientists, physiotherapists and psychologists, and 30 more retired/rehired people in other client/patient services. Client/patient care includes attendants and aides, beauticians, hairdressers, emergency medical technicians and health-care assistants.

The HSE told the Sunday Independent that the majority of retired staff who are re-employed are from specialist grades such as nursing, medical, dental and other skilled health professions.

The rehired staff are paid in line with Revenue Commissioner requirements and the earnings are subject to the same deductions of PAYE, PRSI and income levies as other public workers.

Public servants, according to Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton, are only rehired in the most unusual circumstances, but the fact that 59 retired Department of Agriculture vets have been rehired, or else placed on a panel, must raise questions over that assertion.

These staff are mostly involved in overseeing food safety inspections at meat factories.

The plan was that this relatively routine, albeit important work, would be taken over by civil servants paid at a lower rate and thus saving the State €5m a year.

But as with everything else in the public service, change comes slowly and while 100 civil servants have done all the training required to undertake the work, transferring responsibility to these staff still hasn't happened.

It means that last year the department paid out €17m to private vets and retired vets to carry out this work. Individually the vets can earn €82,000 a year for this work on a shift basis. Last year, a third of young graduate vets left the country.

In schools and at third level, the rehiring of retired teachers has been forced by the understandable decision not to disrupt examinations for students taking Junior certificate, Leaving Certificate and third-level tests.

In all, 2,245 education professionals had left by the end of last year to ensure that they faced no cuts to their pensions.

Some 300 second-level teachers have been brought back so they can stay with their Junior and Leaving Cert classes to the bitter end.

They are being paid, not at their old rate, but at the bottom of the teachers' pay scale -- just over €28,000 a year. The minister, Ruairi Quinn, responded to criticism of the rehiring of retired teachers by implementing rules to make sure new teaching jobs go to recently qualified graduates.

But some teachers are being taken back on simply to see out the rest of the academic year with their classes.

At third-level, academic staff and others are being paid at a fifth of their old salary. The Higher Education Authority said that in most cases these are specialised staff who will be remaining on just to conclude the academic year, which generally finishes next month. The latest available figures show that the previous government paid out €17m in 2010 rehiring former public servants. None of these jobs were advertised at a time when the unemployment rate is more than one in 10.

What will annoy most taxpayers is the rehiring of upper-end civil servants who are in receipt of lucrative pensions and who have been given lump-sum payments.

Parliamentary questions by Fianna Fail deputy Billy Kelleher revealed that the chief medical officer in the Department of Social Protection, who retired earlier in the year, has been rehired on a salary of up to €102,152.

Minister Joan Burton also appointed two retired gardai to the Pensions Board, which carries a generous stipend of more than €80,000.

Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore gave out contracts, ranging from one to three years, to seven retired officials in his department.

Mr Bruton, who said last week that public servants are only rehired in the most exceptional circumstances, appointed four former senior officials, including a former secretary general at the Department of Transport, to public service positions on various agencies, although most of these appointments carry nominal expenses.

However, he also appointed two former public servants to act as civilian drivers at his department. Both drivers are paid €631.75 per week in line with ministerial guidelines.

Sunday Independent

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