Ending public service ‘austerity’ hours costs same as 11,000 new jobs, department says

Unpaid hours said to have kept ‘average working week in line with the private sector’

Full replacement cost for the so-called ‘Haddington Road hours’ is estimated to be  €645m. Photograph: Getty Images

Full replacement cost for the so-called ‘Haddington Road hours’ is estimated to be €645m. Photograph: Getty Images

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The cost of eliminating additional, unpaid working hours introduced for staff across the public service as part of austerity measures nearly a decade ago will be €645 million a year, the Department of Public Expenditure has forecast.

It says this is the equivalent of 10,952 additional full-time employees.

According to the department, the data suggests “additional hours have been essential in keeping average weekly hours worked in line with the private sector”.

In a submission to an independent body established by the Government to examine the issue, it said there were an estimated 185,000 staff across the public sector working approximately 15 million additional hours introduced under the 2013 Haddington Road agreement.

Full replacement cost for the so-called “Haddington Road hours” was estimated to be approximately €645 million, including the impact of changing the divisors for the calculation of overtime.

The department said there was “likely to be increased reliance on overtime/agency staffing to deliver the existing level of service, which come at premiums of 50 per cent and 20 per cent respectively, which will increase costs further”.

In a change of policy earlier this year the Government agreed as part of a new public service agreement to move towards rolling back the additional Haddington Road hours, which up to then were treated as permanent.

An independent body, chaired by former head of the Workplace Relations Commission Kieran Mulvey, was set up to report on the matter by the end of the year.

The Government agreed to provide €150 million next year to pay for its recommendations.

However, the Department of Public Expenditure anticipates much higher costs than that budgeted for. It estimates the cost in the HSE will be just over €300 million, in the civil service €133 million, in education €116 million, and in local authorities €33 million.

Key demand

The Haddington Road deal increased the working week to 37 hours for those who had been working 35 hours or less up to that point. Those working more than 35 hours faced an increase of up to 39 hours.

The move to roll back the Haddington Road hours was a key demand of trade unions in talks that led to the new Building Momentum public service pay deal agreed last December. Unions have disputed the cost estimates put forward by government officials.

The Public Service Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) said in its submission to the expert group during the summer it believed the sum of €150 million allocated by the Government as part of the accord concluded earlier this year should be sufficient to restore to employees the additional working hours “without negative impacts on costs or service delivery”.

The Irish Times reported earlier this month that the HSE has forecast that the effects of reducing hours would be equivalent to the loss of 1,700 nurses or 4,300 staff in total per annum.