Unions present case on HRA hours
by Bernard Harbor
Kevin chairs the ICTU Public Services Committee (PSC), whose officers made the presentation on Wednesday morning (30th June).
Kevin chairs the ICTU Public Services Committee (PSC), whose officers made the presentation on Wednesday morning (30th June).

Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan has led the union team at an oral hearing of the independent body established to make recommendations on the implementation of a Government commitment to resolve the issue of the so-called ‘Haddington Road hours.’


Kevin chairs the ICTU Public Services Committee (PSC), whose officers made the presentation on Wednesday morning (30th June).


The union submission argues that the removal of the additional hours, which were also introduced for many grades in non-commercial State agencies, need not lead to additional costs, reduced productivity or poorer service quality. It says the abolition of the hours can largely be achieved within the €150 million set aside for the purpose under the Building Momentum public service agreement.


This was contested by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), which represents employers in the process, in a separate hearing on Wednesday afternoon.


But unions say there has never been a systematic management attempt to measure any “supposed productivity benefit” of the additional hours. They argue that the size and shape of the public service, and the technological and work-practice environment in which it operates, have altered substantially since the hours were introduced.


“It has never been correct to assume that increased working time equals increased productivity. Indeed, civil service departments, including social protection, temporarily reduced the working day to seven hours from 7.24 during the Covid-19 pandemic, largely to facilitate social distancing. Productivity levels were at an all-time high during that period,” it says.


The union submission argues that the additional unpaid working time, which was introduced as an austerity measure eight years ago, continues to be a debilitating drain on morale and productivity across the civil and public service.


“The continued requirement to work the hours is seen as a throwback to a past period of enforced austerity, where a worker’s contribution was measured in terms of pain imposed rather than the gain added to public services and those who rely on them,” it says.


Though technically introduced by agreement, the PSC says the additional hours are perceived as having been imposed. “This is because they were explicitly presented as the sole alternative to a third pay cut for low-paid and middle-income public servants, who had already sustained catastrophic reductions in income.


“Crucially, the measure was seen as temporary in nature. This was underpinned by the narrative of the time, which expressed the need for additional pay bill savings as emergency measures necessary to meet binding new EU fiscal targets, which have subsequently been relaxed and largely discredited in social and economic discourse here and abroad,” it says.


The PSC submission points out that virtually all other measures – including a third temporary pay cut for staff earning over €65,000 a year – have since been rescinded.


On gender, the submission says the unpaid hours fell hardest in areas like nursing and other health professions, clerical work, and libraries, which are disproportionately staffed by women. This obliged many female public servants to make difficult changes to finely-tuned arrangements for balancing the working day or night with childcare and other caring responsibilities, often at significant financial cost.


“The introduction of the additional HRA hours worsened the gender pay and pensions gap as many female workers were obliged to seek part-time arrangements, retire early, or opt for reduced pay rather than reduced hours,” it says.


The submission says the resolution of the issue is integral to the Building Momentum agreement. “Delivery on this commitment is an absolute requirement of Building Momentum, and the degree of progress on this matter during the lifetime of the current agreement will set the tone for any negotiations on a successor to it,” it argues.


Chaired by Kieran Mulvey, the Independent Body was established under the Building Momentum agreement to make recommendations to address the HRA hours. The agreement commits the parties to “recognise and accept” that this and other specified HRA issues are “outstanding matters to be resolved as part of this agreement.”


The Body is to report this year, and initial implementation of its recommendations is to commence in 2022, with €150 million set aside for this purpose. Provisions necessary to roll-out any remaining recommendations are to be dealt with “in the context of the 2023 [Budget] estimates,” on the basis of engagement between the parties to Building Momentum.


Read the PSC written submission HERE


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