Public service unions welcome restoration of working hours recommendation

Independent body advises reimplementation of pre-Haddington Road Agreement levels

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath told The Irish Times last year that the Government would not commit to a full reversal of additional working hours, but would begin to examine the potential consequences of such a move.  Photograph: Gareth Chaney /Collins

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath told The Irish Times last year that the Government would not commit to a full reversal of additional working hours, but would begin to examine the potential consequences of such a move. Photograph: Gareth Chaney /Collins

 

Public service unions have welcomed a recommendation that working hours be restored to pre-Haddington Road Agreement levels from next July.

The 2013 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.

Although pay cuts introduced in the austerity era were temporary, it had been the general position of governments that parallel work practice reforms would remain in place, including additional unpaid working hours.

However, on Monday it emerged that the Independent Body Examining Additional Working Hours chaired by Kieran Mulvey has sent recommendations to restore working hours for civil and public servants to the Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath, as agreed under the Building Momentum Public Service Agreement.

Ahead of the publication of recommendations, Fórsa, which represents thousands of public service workers, said that if the Government accepts Mr Mulvey’s recommendation it would unwind the final element of the HRA’s austerity measures.

Noting that temporary pay cuts for more senior public servants had already been restored, general secretary Kevin Callinan said such a move on working hours would remove “a longstanding and debilitating drain on morale and productivity”.

“The acceptance of the recommendation by Government would also significantly enhance the prospect for continued stability in public service delivery and quality, not least by removing a huge obstacle to the successful negotiation of a public service agreement to replace Building Momentum when it expires later this year,” he said.

Disproportionate impact

The union has questioned the assumption that increased working time would lead to additional productivity. Mr Callinan pointed out that civil service departments had temporarily reduced the working day to seven hours from 7.24 during the pandemic, “largely to facilitate social distancing, and productivity was at an all-time high during that period”.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) also welcomed the move saying it would help with the retention of nurses and midwives.

“The additional hours have disproportionately impacted our largely female workforce,” said general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha, who said the measure had pushed many nurses and midwives into part-time work.

“Since 2013 the addition unpaid hours have had a considerable negative impact on morale, and the retention of nurses and midwives within the public health service.”

INMO members voted to accept the Building Momentum Agreement and its full implementation ahead of new public service agreement negotiations later this year.

“The INMO, along with other unions that represent public and civil servants, is confident that the return to pre-Haddington Road hours can be achieved without an excessive additional cost to the exchequer or damage the output of our public sector.”

Similarly, the Psychiatric Nurses Association’s general secretary Peter Hughes said implementation of the recommendation would be “important in the efforts to retain nurses in the mental health services where we are already seeing evidence of nurses being attracted to take up posts abroad in places such as Canada and Australia”.

Early last year, Minister McGrath told The Irish Times that the Government would not commit to a full reversal of additional working hours, but would begin to examine the potential consequences of such a move.

In 2017 the Department estimated it would cost over €600 million, although that figure has been disputed by trade unions.

On Monday, a spokeswoman confirmed that the Minister had received correspondence from Mr Mulvey containing conclusions and recommendations.

“The Minister looks forward to receiving the full report from the body in the coming weeks,” she said. “The Government, continuing to prioritise service delivery, will respond to all of the body’s recommendations at that point.”