Despite falling unemployment, there’s a common perception that the Department of Employment and Social Protection is one of the toughest places to work in the Irish civil service.
That’s according to Fórsa’s DEASP executive grades branch secretary Teresa Barrett, who says the impression is borne out by the number of queries and concerns raised by Fórsa members working in social welfare offices.
“There are major workload and stress issues, but this is difficult to convey because of the perception that there is less work and less need to fill vacancies because the numbers on the live register have fallen significantly.
That’s most certainly not the case. Being over-burdened and under-trained are the most frequent complaints from our members,” she says.
Teresa says there have been many changes in the way services are delivered, leaving staff with the feeling that quantity takes precedence over quality.
“Like many departments, the workforce churn is becoming significant, and with it a loss of corporate knowledge,” she argues.
On the plus side, Teresa says there have been more promotional opportunities lately. “It’s surely a very good thing when members say there are too many promotion competitions,” she says.
In March, Fórsa reported that the department had agreed to give permanent contracts to a number of temporary staff working on its public service card project. The breakthrough came after the union won a number of cases on behalf of temporary clerical officers it believed should be on permanent contracts, or ‘contracts of indefinite duration.’
Fórsa is also working with the department to improve access to work sharing, amid concerns that family friendly initiatives are restricted by the requirement to provide a year-round service.
Teresa welcomed comments from social protection minister Regina Doherty, who recently said people shouldn’t be berated for doing their job well.
“The work of the department is challenging in itself, and that was good to hear. But, regrettably, some advocates for customers feel it’s okay to question the integrity of staff and describe them in the most scathing of terms,” she said.