Public service increments an 'elephant in the room'


PUBLIC SERVICE increments are the “elephant in the room”, a Government backbencher told Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin when he appeared before the Public Accounts Committee.

Fine Gael TD Simon Harris said if the Croke Park deal, which protects public sector pay and pensions, was to get the support it needed from the wider public, the issue of awarding incremental pay increases for staff next year would have to be addressed.

“The elephant in the room in this is next year and the increments. It’s being discussed in the media, it’s being discussed at kitchen tables throughout this country.

“Can you explain the rational behind the increments next year?

“Will there be anything given in return to the Irish taxpayer and to the consumer of the public service rather than somebody just being there for a certain number of years just getting a pay increase, which is effectively what it is.”

Mr Harris also complained about retired teachers in receipt of public service pensions returning to the classroom while young teachers could not get permanent jobs. He also cited a “major, major problem” with sick leave in the Health Service Executive.

Responding to Mr Harris on the issue of increments, Mr Howlin said “everything was on the agenda”.

However, he said increments were paid “by and large” to new entrants to the public service. He questioned whether it would be correct not to pay increments to “new guards and new teachers” while leaving their more established counterparts “untouched”.

Referring to the practice of retired teachers returning to the profession, Mr Howlin described this as an “annoying factor”.

He said a measure to prevent this had been proposed in the last Dáil but then removed by amendment.

On sick leave, he said he would be publishing proposals outlining significant changes soon.

Mr Howlin agreed some 3,000 new people would be recruited into the public and Civil Service following a query from Labour TD Derek Nolan.

Mr Nolan said the moratorium on public sector appointments had been effective but blunt, and asked Mr Howlin about the extent of his plan to allow limited and targeted recruitment to the sector.

Committee chairman John McGuinness expressed concern that only “frontline” staff would leave the public service as part of the reduction in numbers, while layers of management personnel would remain in place.

“We have to be strategic in where they come from in leaving the service,” Mr McGuinness said.

“We’ve no choice,” Mr Howlin responded.

However he had a more “sanguine” attitude than Mr McGuinness.

“I think it will be across all sectors. I don’t think it will be exclusively frontline.”

No Opposition members of the committee were present bar the chairman.