Fórsa has disputed Government estimates that restoring pre-crisis working time in the civil and public service could cost the Exchequer over €600 million a year. The union’s Senior General Secretary Designate Kevin Callinan said the figure was at least 50% higher than Government estimates when the additional time was introduced in 2013.
Speaking at two Fórsa divisional conferences in Kilkenny last week, he added that advances in new technologies and work organisation could defray much of the cost of reduced working time in the public service and elsewhere.
Earlier, Kevin said discussion of the restoration of pre-crisis working hours should form part of mid-term review of the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA), which governs pay and working conditions for most public servants.
He said a review was necessary to “bolster the agreement’s credibility by taking account of improved economic indicators and past income foregone.”
Twelve civil service branches submitted motions on the ‘Haddington Road hours,’ which was more than on any other issue debated at the conference. Similar motions were tabled for the union’s health, education and local government conferences.
They relate to additional hours added to the working week of lower and middle-earning public servants under the 2013 Haddington Road agreement.
Kevin said this had resulted in a “two-tier problem” because the temporary pay cuts experienced at the same time by higher grades – whose working time did not increase – have been restored, while additional working time for lower and middle earners has not.
“A few years ago, when we were in the eye of the economic storm, I opposed similar conference motions. But I’d struggle to construct a convincing argument against them now, in light of our current economic performance and rapidly-developing technological possibilities,” said Kevin.
Under the Haddington Road agreement, higher earners – those on €65,000 a year or more – suffered a third, but temporary pay cut. By January 2018 this had been restored in full, as envisaged in the deal.
Those who earned less accepted increased working hours to avoid a third pay cut. But, unlike their higher-paid colleagues, these workers have seen no restoration to pre-crisis working time levels.
Kevin said: “These were torrid times for Ireland and, when the Government sought savings to fill an extra and unexpected €1 billion hole in the public finances, we agreed to talk and workers reluctantly voted to accept a third hit.
“By doing so we produced the savings that enabled the country to meet the harsh Troika bailout terms, and we avoided the imposition of another public service-wide pay cut under the hated FEMPI emergency legislation.
“It was the right thing to do at the time. But six years later we’re left with yet another two-tier public service problem, which leaves those on low and middle incomes – mainly women – losing out. This anomaly continues to disadvantage lower paid workers long after better-paid staff have experienced restoration. That’s not fair. However justifiable increased working time may have been during the crisis, it goes against the prevailing grain of efforts to better balance work and family responsibilities.”
Kevin said Fórsa wanted to restore and maintain full confidence in the Public service Stability Agreement (PSSA), which governs pay and working conditions for most public servants. “It’s time to shift our focus from the past and focus on the challenge of delivering real improvements in wages and purchasing power,” he said.
Read Kevin Callinan’s blog on working time HERE.