Coalition targets over 80 public service allowances

Thu, Oct 11, 2012, 01:00

TRADE UNIONS are set to oppose the latest effort by the Government to eliminate a wide range of public service allowances.

Following last month’s climbdown on reforming allowances, the Government has reopened the issue and is seeking to eliminate more than 80 allowances currently paid to serving staff across the public service.

The move comes after only one allowance for serving staff out of more than 1,000 was removed last month following a major review overseen by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said yesterday that it wanted management in different parts of the public service to engage with trade unions to eliminate allowances for serving staff in cases where there was no business case for paying them to new personnel.

Alternatively, it said, management should seek to review allowances if this would present greater value for the taxpayer.

Last month the Government said it would no longer pay about 180 allowances to new personnel. It has now said it wants to eliminate 88 of these for existing staff as a priority.

Separately, Taoiseach Enda Kenny will today preside over a crucial meeting with the body overseeing the implementation of the Croke Park agreement to consider proposals aimed at securing further savings under the deal.

Mr Kenny will chair a meeting in his department at which Mr Howlin will present an assessment of potential savings across all 15 Government departments drawn up by Ministers over recent weeks.

There has been speculation in recent days that the Government has signalled to union leaders that it wanted to hold discussions on some form of an extension to the current Croke Park agreement.

Asked last night whether it had indicated to unions that there might be new talks on the agreement, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said: “No comment.”

Details of the proposals for escalating savings under the Croke Park agreement drawn up by various Ministers have not been made known.

However, it is understood that the Department of Health and the Department of Education have been looking at the issue of seeking staff to work additional hours. This would fall outside the scope of the existing Croke Park agreement.

Details of the Government’s plans on public service allowances emerged yesterday after a letter on the issue drawn up by the secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Robert Watt, was given to health service unions.

The department confirmed that it had sent similar letters to each government department.

Mr Howlin last night said he favoured using a dedicated fast-track arbitration process in relation to the new proposals to eliminate allowances.

Last night Siptu vice-president Patricia King said many of the allowances went back decades and were considered part of core pay. She said while the union would be open to consolidating allowances into pay, as proposed for example in the education sector, it would oppose attacks on low-paid staff.

Paul Bell of Siptu’s health division said the proposals on allowances could place staff on a collision course with the Government.