The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) has confirmed that the use of an external company to provide call centre support to the department is a one-off, short-term emergency measure.
In an email to Fórsa, the department said internal staff, including those temporarily reassigned from other public service bodies, would continue to deliver the lion’s share of the department’s phone bank functions, and there are no plans to reassign any DEASP staff to other public bodies.
The union also sought clarification from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) yesterday (Wednesday). DEPR confirmed that there was no intention to retain outsourced phone support beyond the short term.
The assurances came after the union demanded that the use of an external contractor should be for as short a time as possible – and certainly no more than the four weeks recently indicated to the union.
Earlier in the week, Fórsa also made it clear that the short-term temporary outsourcing of departmental work “should not, in any way, or at any time, be read as a precedent.”
The head of Fórsa’s civil service division, Derek Mullen, emailed the department on Monday (6th April), as it was revealed that over 700,000 people were now in receipt of State income supports.
He said the union expected the department to deploy public service temporary reassignments as a matter of urgency.
“If an emergency arrangement with an external supplier is necessary in the short-term, this should be for the minimum possible period of time and certainly no longer than the short time necessary to ramp up the deployment of public service temporary reassignments,” he said.
Derek added: “Clearly, there can be no question of DEASP staff being reassigned during this period, given the emergency that you have identified. And it hardly needs saying that Fórsa’s position is that this should not – in any way, or at any time – be read as a precedent.”
The union acted after senior departmental officials revealed their intention to employ external resources to increase the DEASP’s phone-answering capacity for a short period.
Derek said the union fully shared the desire “to ensure a speedy response to the unprecedented surge in claims associated with the new cornonavirus-related schemes.” He noted that the department’s staff had processed ten months’ worth of claims in a ten-day period.
He said it was disappointing that the department had not consulted with the union “particularly in light of the unprecedented effort, commitment and productivity that our members have demonstrated over the past two weeks, and which the Secretary General acknowledged in his message to them last Thursday.”
In normal times, Fórsa would oppose outsourcing of this kind – and it would normally be deemed in breach of the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA).
The department has said it aims to increase additional capacity in the Covid-19 Income Support Help Line by increasing the numbers of internal staff and colleagues from across the public service.
And it concedes that the deployment of external supplies is "an emergency temporary response designed to respond to an unprecedented situation."