Saturday 7 December 2019

What just happened to the public service?

Unanswered phone calls without resultant disciplinary action leave Kate Kavanagh bemused

Kate Kavanagh

LAST week, the public service unions stepped up their disruptive tactics campaigns in protest against the pay cuts imposed on them by their employer -- the Government.

They're going on strike?

Well, they're not calling it a strike, they're calling it industrial action.

What's the difference?

If they went on strike, they wouldn't get paid. By calling their disruptive action a work-to-rule, they can claim they'll only carry out the work that they're contracted to do.

Great. We should start getting things done around here then?

Not quite. Unfortunately, a 'work-to-rule' means doing less, not more than usual. Most public servants claim they're stretched to the limit, always doing above and beyond the call of duty.

So they're sticking to doing their jobs?

Right. But they won't answer the phone.

It's not their job to answer the phones?

Who knows? That's part of the confusion.

So why aren't they disciplined?

That's the thing about the public service. There doesn't seem to be any implementing of discipline. There's no culture of consequences or accountability, unless it affects promotional prospects. Anyway, part of this disruptive action is non-cooperation with performance monitoring of staff.


No one cares what anyone else does -- or doesn't do. It goes right up the line. They can sit at counter number seven and chew gum to the beat of their iPods until someone comes along to sign on or get a passport.

Can't they lose their jobs?

It's the public service. They can't be fired. So some would say a culture of doing as little as you can get away with crept in over time.

Sounds like a good deal. So why are they so upset?

They're miffed because of the pay cuts. So they want Brian Cowen to sit down and have a chat about it.

So when will that happen?

When hell freezes over. Cowen isn't the most dynamic at the best of times. The last thing he'll want to do is sit down and grasp this nasty nettle.

But isn't everyone feeling the pain? Why are the public servants especially miffed?

Good question. First of all, reducing the pay of civil servants has never happened before. It's all been a bit of a

shock really. Secondly, they claim they were badly off during the Celtic Tiger years when the world and its mother were millionaires.

Weren't they as free as anyone else to go and seek their fortune?

Yes. But instead they negotiated pretty decent salaries through partnership and Bertie's 'goodwill to all men' approach to economics.

So now Cowen is saying they're overpaid?

Not really. He's saying we can't afford to pay them what they're getting and the whole public service pay bill has to be reduced. According to Colm McCarthy, we're broke.

So everyone in the public service is taking a cut?

Again, it's not quite as clear -- or as fair -- as that. Initially, yes. Bizarrely, Cowen changed his mind and decided to reverse some of the cuts for the senior and higher-paid civil servants.

Who advised him to do that?

Probably the senior and higher-paid civil servants.

Is that why the unions now think he'll reverse the decision for all?

Maybe. You can't blame them. It was a clumsy way to tackle the public service pay -- with a sizable number left dissatisfied and disaffected.

Surely they'd be thankful to have a job at all, and not be rocking the boat?

Well they do have a point. Some of the lesser-paid public servants have calculated that, taking lots of other benefits into account, they'd be just marginally less well off if they were on the dole.

But what about the dignity of work? Having a purpose to your day? That good feeling you get from a job well done?

You haven't been listening, have you?

So what's to be done?

Here's the scene. We don't think we're getting our money's worth from the civil service. They in turn think they're overworked and underpaid. For sure, we can't afford the wage bill as it stands. For the most part, they seem to be miserable in their jobs. The whole thing needs to be reformed.

It'd be like trying to sculpt in the desert. Where would ye start?

Well, as the fella said -- I wouldn't start from here. The best way would be to redefine every job in the public service. Then put everyone in one big job pool hat. Redefine the jobs, and reassign people to do the jobs. Put the square pegs into the square holes.

Wouldn't that cause upheaval?


So, all we need then is leadership. . . with the vision and the courage to implement reform despite the upheaval?

Now you've depressed me.

Sunday Independent

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