Kenny urges public service movement on Croke Park

 

Changes made in the public service under the Croke Park agreement have been “impressive” but are only the beginning of what is required, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.

Addressing delegates at the biennial conference of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in Kerry, Mr Kenny said he shared the view that there had been “much unfair and unreasonable criticism of the Irish public service over recent years”.

He acknowledged the “hard work and commitment, and indeed the flexibility and innovation of so many public servants across all the branches of our system”.

But Mr Kenny said he was equally aware of the frustration, “and even despair” of many committed public servants at the “outdated structures, the inadequate processes, the fragmentation and arcane work practices which blight their working lives and frustrate our objective to have the highest quality public services available to those who need them”.

“That is why nothing less than public service transformation is required. It is why the Government established a new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to provide effective and focused political leadership for the task of managing change.”

Mr Kenny said the progress to date under the Croke Park agreement had been impressive, but was only the beginning.

“If we are to maintain the agreed framework of Croke Park – and the Government is fully committed to doing so – then we must have the pace and scale of change that makes honouring those commitments possible.”

He added that there was an onus on management and staff at all levels of the public service to make the deal work in their own areas of activity.

Mr Kenny said it may be that formal social partnership agreements are “not appropriate at this time”.

“But I recognise that social partnership is a status which derives, not from formal agreements, but from the role played by key interests in civil society, including the trade unions.”

He said that was a valuable European tradition and he would uphold it.

He planned to hold further meetings with senior Ictu officials to review the broad areas of mutual interest and concern.

On the plans to reform the joint labour committee and employment regulation order system, Mr Kenny said: “We must move quickly and decisively to ensure that our labour market institutions are reformed so that they respond appropriately to this crisis of unemployment.”

Noting the Government’s “unprecedented majority”, Mr Kenny pledged to get on with the task of fixing the economy “urgently and comprehensively”.

He was under “no illusion” about the scale of the challenge. Nothing was excluded from consideration when the Government looked at spending, he warned.

“We will probably conclude that there are some things that the country simply cannot afford, and they will be dropped. There are some things that we cannot afford unless they are done very differently, at a lower cost, and they will be changed.”

On the reduction of the 13.5 per cent VAT rate to 9 per cent in some sectors last week, Mr Kenny said it was essential every business reflect that change in its prices, “immediately, and in full”.

Arriving at the biennial conference, the Taoiseach assured Congress that there was an avenue for discussions with unions.

“I commit myself and commit the Government to continuing dialogue and discussion with the trade union movement. I think this is very necessary,” he said.

“We are in different circumstances now, we face a different kind of challenge and this is a requirement for the entire country to be involved as we face what is the most unprecedented economic challenge our country has ever faced.”

Jimmy Kelly, regional secretary of the Unite union, said the Government will be judged by how it treats the low paid.

“The Government must be fair to low paid workers and fight employer moves to dismantle their rights and wages,” he said.

“Its treatment of low paid workers will be a marker of it’s commitment to a just society.”

Mr Kelly called for new laws on workers’ rights and pension protection before a new talks system is created.

“Once those commitments are made, then we can have a meaningful debate among equals on the ways in which employment can be maintained and grown as the only sustainable way out of this crisis,” he said.

Additional reporting: PA