Many public servants look set for shorter working week

Unions welcome news, which they say will unwind the last of the austerity measures

The Government is likely to accept a recommendation from an independent body to shorten the working week of many public servants.

Under the recommendations, additional hours for some public servants accepted in lieu of pay cuts during the economic crash – under the Haddington Road agreement – will be discontinued.

However, the cost of the concession will be significantly less than the €600 million-plus the Department of Public Expenditure had warned about last year. Instead, the Government estimates that accepting the recommendations will cost about €180 million this year and €360 million in a full year.

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, and have since been reversed, 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, had sent recommendations to restore working hours for civil and public servants to Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath. The process was part of the most recent public sector pay agreement, the Building Momentum deal.

It is understood Mr Mulvey has recommended some exceptions, including for hospital consultants, who are currently engaged in contract negotiations, and for academics. It is also expected to set a minimum working week for public servants of 35 hours a week.

Health concerns

There is also some concern in government about the effect of the changes on the health service, “which would need to be carefully considered before being implemented”, according to one source.

The report is unlikely to be considered by the Government for some weeks.

Unions welcomed the news, which they said would finally unwind the last of the austerity measures.

Noting that temporary pay cuts for more senior public servants had already been restored, Kevin Callinan, general secretary of the trade union Fórsa, 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.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation 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 additional unpaid hours have had a considerable negative impact on morale, and the retention of nurses and midwives within the public health service.”