Union urges flexibility for Civil Service to offer higher pay

Civil servants call for reversal of additional working hours imposed during crisis

Doreen Doggett and Peg O’Meara from Dublin at the Fórsa conference in Killarney, Co Kerry. Photograph: Domnick Walsh/ Eye Focus Ltd.

Doreen Doggett and Peg O’Meara from Dublin at the Fórsa conference in Killarney, Co Kerry. Photograph: Domnick Walsh/ Eye Focus Ltd.

 

Management in the Civil Service should be given the flexibility to pay staff above the usual entry rates, where necessary, in order to attract suitably qualified staff, the country’s largest public service trade union has said.

The Fórsa trade union’s Civil Service divisional conference in Killarney was told on Thursday that the Civil Service was struggling to recruit staff in many areas because salaries were not keeping pace with those available in comparable private sector employment.

The new union, which is an amalgamation of Impact, the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU) and the Public Service Executive Union (PSEU), said State bodies were finding it difficult to recruit a wide range of staff including cleaners, solicitors, meteorologists, radio officers, technical agricultural officers, valuers, Oireachtas researchers, translation staff, and special education needs organisers.

Speaking at the conference Fórsa official Andy Pike said that while the recruitment problem was most stark in professional and technical areas, it was not confined to these professions. “Some civil service bodies have even struggled to hire cleaners in recent months,” he said.

Mr Pike said a recent competition for permanent civilian posts at Dublin Garda stations attracted so few applicants that it has to be repeated.

He said there were also ongoing problems recruiting meteorologists.

He said a recent panel for forecasters led to just three posts being filled, while eight candidates refused positions because of low starting salaries.

“A 2016 competition for special education needs organisers [SENOs] was equally unsuccessful. All but one of 20 qualifying candidates walked away because better deals were available in schools.

“Across the State’s laboratories, law offices and many specialist agencies, the current starting salaries are no longer competitive compared with the private sector labour market for specialist staff,” said Mr Pike.

He maintained that the length of the engineer pay scales was also a barrier to retaining staff, who were “no longer prepared to wait almost two decades to reach the top of their pay scale as evidenced by the recent loss of scientific staff from the Forensics Services Laboratory”.

Cleaning staff

Mr Pike also said starting pay for cleaners working at the Garda training college in Templemore was €9.10 an hour, which was below the legal minimum for private sector contract cleaners.

“Further difficulties have been reported recruiting cleaning staff for the Department of the Taoiseach. The low starting salary is not competitive with pay rates in the private sector,” he said.

Meanwhile, the conference instructed the union to pursue the rolling back of additional working hours imposed on staff during the economic crash.

Kevin Murtagh of the union’s Agri-Labs branch said the additional unpaid working time amounted to 22 days extra per year at a time when he had 25 days’ annual leave.

The division’s chairman, Niall McGuirk, said reductions in working time, including the objective of returning public servants to their pre-crisis hours, should be among the priorities in talks on a successor to the existing Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA), which expires in 2020.

He said while limited concessions on the issue were achieved in the current deal, negotiated last year, “members expected the union to seek further progress in future”.

As part of the Haddington Road agreement in 2013, many staff across the public service saw their working week increased by two hours and 15 minutes.

Provisions introduced last year permitted staff to revert to their previous working hours in return for a corresponding proportionate reduction in salary, while a facility was also put in place to convert some leave into flexitime.

Addressing the conference on Thursday, Mr McGuirk said: “These measures help, but they are not a return to the pre-crisis situation. We know that there are competing demands on what can be achieved in negotiations. But working time cannot, and will not, fall off the table. I expect us to send a message to our negotiators that this issue means a lot to very many of our members.”