Flexibility needed to avoid redundancies - Cowen


BRIAN COWEN has warned that “extremely flexible” and redeployment arrangements must be put in place in the public sector to avoid compulsory redundancies.

He also stressed that the Government would not be influenced by the threat of a further 24-hour strike by the public service. “I’m not interested in people going on strike. I don’t believe it’s the right approach,” he said. The Government was in discussions and “I can’t make decisions on the basis of another problem arising on December 3rd.”

Mr Cowen was speaking during Dáil question time, when pressed by the Opposition about reform of the public sector and further strike action in advance of the December 9th budget.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny highlighted the OECD report, which referred to the “collapse of value for money” and “the damage done by an ill-thought-out decentralisation programme”.

What was “really causing a major problem is the fact that the only solution coming from Government is an austerity programme”.

Rejecting Mr Kenny’s assessment the Taoiseach insisted that some parts of the public service and “delivery systems” were working well, including the Revenue Commissioners, and departments of agriculture and social and family affairs.

Their “technology transfer” systems “are as good as can be found anywhere in the EU”.

But “some aspects are not working as well” and the “financial realities are dictating what must be done”. Redeployment “is a critical factor, in particular the ability to redeploy people across the service to areas of critical need”.

The public sector recruitment moratorium meant savings of €300 million, but redeployment was essential. It was clear there would be “surplus staff” with the changes in service delivery. Without a “commitment to redeployment it is very difficult to have an effective and cost-effective change-management process”.

It was however, essential “that those being redeployed are not unfairly disadvantaged. Management would be empowered to require deployment under arrangements to be put in place in each sector. Where disputes arise as to redeployment, there will have to be a speedy and final method of resolution.

“Extremely flexible redeployment arrangements must be viewed as the corollary to arrangements that do not provide for compulsory redundancies.”

Referring to strike action, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said that “while I never believed the Taoiseach was in a position to wave a wand to call off strikes, he was in a position to advance the negotiations in order that strikes could be averted”. The Taoiseach “allowed yesterday’s strike to take place. It appeared he wanted it to take place for whatever reason.” He asked if the Taoiseach was confident he could conclude an agreement with the social partners to avert the December 3rd strike.

Mr Cowen insisted that he was “not interested in anyone withdrawing their labour”; Mr Gilmore said he had done “very little to stop it”. The Taoiseach said “that has never been my way of conducting discussions with anyone”.

Insisting that he would deal with the issues “on their objective merits and not on the basis of the prospect of a strike next week or some other week”, Mr Cowen was “not interested in people going on strike”.

He asked, “what should the prospect of a strike convey to me as I take part in those discussions?”

He said the Government would not “move away from the objective merits of what we believe is necessary in the national interest”.

He said “I cannot make decisions on the basis of another problem arising on December 3rd.”