IMPACT general secretary Shay Cody Croke Park Conference The contribution of staff to Public Service reform 30th June 2011
At the start of this process, public service staff felt victimised, isolated and demonised. A deliberate political strategy was adopted by certain commentators, politicians and media outlets to introduce a divide between private sector and public service workers by consistently demonising and marginalising public service workers. In many cases these were the same commentators who had been prominent cheerleaders of the bubble and had ridiculed any critics of the light touch regulation policy approach of the Boston over Berlin advocates. Faced with this barrage of unrelenting criticism, public servants felt angry, fearful and undervalued. Their critics had access to all the means of mass communications and had significant support in very influential political and business circles.
And yet, public servants kept the show on the road in delivering services to the public.
They banded together in their unions for solidarity and protection seeking to avoid further cuts. It needs to be remembered that they voted overwhelmingly to defend themselves collectively through industrial action. They took strike action and undertook other industrial action. However, overwhelmingly, they wanted a negotiated settlement by way of what is fundamentally a fairly standard collective agreement and when it was eventually concluded they voted strongly for it.
That’s the background to Croke Park but everyone must also realise, it’s also the alternative to Croke Park. Those who continue to pour forth the steady diet of unrelenting criticism of the agreement must realise that, in the unlikely event of a collapse or reneging on Croke Park there would be serious consequences that this country does not need.
Croke Park is a traditional type of agreement between a trade union and we all have to recognise is a broke employer – designed to protect staff while reducing costs. It is an agreement designed to allow for the extraction of costs from the public service. It also holds open the prospect of a recovery of lost income over time. And a lot of income has been lost in the form of pay cuts and the so-called pension levy. Being realistic, the timing of any restoration process will be dependent on the return of growth and economic recovery. It is the consensus view of the Public Services Committee Negotiation Group that the unwinding of the invidious and unjust so-called pension levy will be our priority when that time comes.
Under Croke Park, staff co-operate with cost extraction in a way never done before. In the absence of Croke Park, it is inevitable that there would be resistance every step of the way.
The language we use about this agreement is important for staff. Too negative a tone gives comfort to those interests that want to see the agreement fail. More importantly, it could create a gloomy fatalism among public servants, whose work is overwhelmingly fit for purpose, and whose efforts to reform under Croke Park need to be welcomed and acknowledged.
The recent report of the Implementation Body confirms that significant achievements have been secured to date. In the first
year of its operation €289m in payroll costs have been saved. €86m of costs have been avoided and €308m other identifiable savings were reported to the body. The public service pay bill, made up of a combination of headcount and payroll has declined by 15.5% from its peak. This must be recognised as a significant and substantial achievement and takes us beyond the 2011 targets set by the troika.
I want to speak about the effects of Croke Park on staff from three perspectives; as staff, as union members and, in many cases as, managers.
As staff, the main effect to date is their experience in dealing with the need to cover for vacant posts. As their colleagues depart, most jobs are embargoed and the remaining workforce must cover for their departed colleagues. A total of 16,400 have gone since the peak in 2008 and 5,400 have gone in the past 12 months. Almost 2000 went in one day from the HSE, placing enormous strain on those remaining and we should seek to avoid the unnecessary disruption of that type of concentrated timescale. So far, the other significant work reorganisation has been experienced by Prison Officers with new rosters in some prisons, Medical Laboratory staff with new attendance arrangements and the reduction or elimination of overtime and extra attendance, particularly in many Local Authorities. IMPACT was deeply involved in the Laboratories Agreement which introduced extended working hours for staff at vastly reduced cost, through a major shake-up of hours and premium payments
The comprehensive spending review, when it is complete, will lead to significant challenges for thousands of additional public
servants. It is anticipated that many spending programmes will be curtailed or eliminated. Many front line as well as back office services will be shared, some organisations will be merged, and others will be abolished or altered. These expected Government decisions will directly affect many staff. The Croke Park agreement anticipated this eventuality and expressly provides for redeployment within their geographical area and within their skillset. It is inevitable that this scenario will visit many individual public servants who never envisaged or anticipated that they would find themselves in this situation. We should not underestimate the personal difficulties that will face individuals. Croke Park enables solutions within the framework of its protections.
However we should not underestimate the difficulties that relocations that can generate a daily commute of up to 90km will cause for individuals. The trade unions, working together and with management have a responsibility to seek to alleviate these difficulties. In IMPACT we have experienced the HSE widening the radius within which they are seeking to transfer staff to a centre in Finglas. At the last update they were seeking to transfer staff from Loughlinstown on the Wicklow border. At the same time, I am certain that there are other public servants, in similar grades commuting past the Finglas centre on their way into the city centre or beyond. It is not beyond our wit to come up with a solution that could allow for staff swops across employments or sectors.
There is also a need to create a facility that will allow staff to have an input into how their jobs are done and how their services are delivered. At the time of the British Government’s 2010 spending review, there was a facility in the UK Civil
Service that allowed individual employees to make suggestions via an online facility and there was a commitment for all suggestions to be examined and responded to within a specified period of time. The spending reviews set firm and fixed spending budgets over several years for each Department. A programme called the spending challenge was launched with a view to affording public service workers an opportunity to suggest how best to change the way their employment worked. Over 6 million workers were invited to make an input on how to get more for less. Over 63,000 responded over a two week period. An equivalent level of response in Ireland would be over 3,000 suggestions. I recall that when the State forestry company, Coillte, was set up the management initiated an exercise of asking staff how their job could be done. Forestry workers came up with the suggestion of wrapping trees from the nurseries in paper wrapping instead of plastic. This facilitated easier planting. Nobody had ever asked them for their opinion before.
Public servants who have management roles face particular responsibilities in the Croke Park environment. Many of them only have experience of managing in the good times. All developed their careers in a culture of top down decision making with central control of staffing, resources and budgets. Managers will now need to break of out the traditional funnel world view. It was heartening to see local initiatives with suppliers being challenged to deliver goods and services at lower costs. Organisations are grouping together to bulk purchase energy and other supplies but these examples seem to arise within individual sectors. There is a need to broaden horizons and develop local links across sectoral boundaries. I believe that local government, with its local presence and local decision
making, has a key role to play in this. The experience of the Implementation Body is that under the pressures of the crisis, many public managers are learning to live with diminished resources.
In the context of the duties and responsibilities of managers, I want to refer to a newspaper article published last week, which quoted a senior public servants as stating that theAgreement is frustrating his efforts to hire, fire and move people on. He was also quoted as warning that the current system, "just doesn't work". "Changes get made but you can't recruit, you can't sack, you can't move on, you can't take things forward. s created a place of no consequence," he said.
Allowing for the possibility of inaccurate quoting – though I saw no correction – this is a classic example of avoiding responsibility. Croke Park does not determine hiring policy. The Government does. Croke Park does not prevent dismissals for performance issues. Managers have the power and procedures to deal with that. Croke Park does not prevent moving people on or taking things forward. In fact Croke Park facilitates these developments.
It is not acceptable for managers to hide behind and misrepresent Croke Park. It is possible to conclude that some managers believe that it would make life much easier for them if there was another pay cut instead of undertaking the hard graft of, in his words, ‘taking things forward’.
The Croke Park agreement also allows us to envisage and prepare to build the public service that will be fit for purpose for the future.
The reform agenda will not necessarily save a lot of money in the short term, and, I make an important distinction here between the reform agenda and the staff reductions, which will and are saving a lot of money. But it should change things for the better in the long term. It should implement reforms that are long overdue and include things like the method of appointment to and promotion in the civil service. Issues like: why can an engineer or accountant become an SEO in local government, but not an assistant principal in the Civil Service?
And it should include initiatives like allowing Civil Servants to use the LRC and Labour Court, and streamlining the adjudication process, and creating a senior public service as recommended by the OECD - not a senior civil service as implemented by civil service management.
I also want to address the perspective of public servants in their capacity as trade union members.
Just over a year ago the trade union movement conducted our internal debate on the merits of the Croke Park agreement. There was a clamour for the political world to interfere in that debate. As a union that backed the agreement with a 77% majority, we welcomed the approach of those who chose to leave these matters to be decided by an independent trade union movement. Any of those who sought to interfere in our internal debate, in
effect sought to make the unions a political battleground. That was not acceptable or right.
For the past number of years IMPACT and many other public service unions have kept a dialogue with all the parties. This was not to politically align our organisations, but to allow us to understand each other. The benefits of this was seen before, during and since Croke Park was agreed. And it has helped the agreement to withstand a barrage of attacks from vested interests and the ultra left and the ultra right – some of whom share the same media outlets!
However as trade unionists we must recognise that, in many cases, our unions and union structures were designed for a different era. Last year the ICTU set up a commission on the future of the trade union movement and commented as follows;
The Commission observed that over the last number of months the environment in which unions in the public sector operate is changing dramatically. It seems to the Commission that the Croke Park Agreement envisages the integration of the public service and that barriers to a unified public service labour market will be dismantled. Significant redeployment will occur within and across each sector of the public service and we anticipate that this policy approach will continue beyond the lifetime of the Croke Park Agreement. The Commission is of the view that trade union structures developed in an era where the different sectors of the public service were, in effect, entirely separate organisations will not be fit for purpose under a unified public service. It seems to the Commission that the continued existence of separate organisations will inevitably act as an impediment to a more integrated public service. It is unlikely that the Government or the public service employers will accept that the requirements of, or the need for, the preservation of historical trade union structures are a legitimate consideration in the implementation of the new policy approach. There will be an inevitable requirement for trade union organisational structures to respond to and match changing public policy objectives. This is likely to focus on the separate organisations that represent broadly similar categories across the overall public service. Given this emerging environment we believe that these unions should begin to explore the organisational implications in public policy. To the Commission it seems logical that these discussions should include consideration of a process of amalgamations.
The Commission made a number of concrete suggestions which included reference to IMPACT. Our Executive has responded positively and we will consider the matter further after the ICTU Conference next week.
As we reflect on the first year of Croke Park it is clear that there has been little informed analysis of what we are seeking to achieve. The greatest fear of the small number of informed commentators is the inability of management to manage. The greatest fear (or hope) of ill-informed commentators is that staff will resist and the agreement will fail and collapse.
Ironically, the greatest fear of many of those who cover the topic is that the agreement will work – depriving them of a good story on the predicted row.
Croke Park is an agreement between an employer and its staff. It is not a social partnership agreement. It would benefit from being surrounded by the framework of a social partnership structure allowing insight for interested representative bodies in business, farming and the community and voluntary sector. The trade unions are open to that. I believe that the other social representatives are. It is now a matter for Government to decide if this is to be developed and I believe they should. At the very least some form of social partnership framework would avoid the gratuitous and ill informed comments from IBEC the day before the first report was published criticising the absence of and barriers to reform. Playing to the gallery serves no ones interests and if an organisation like IBEC wants to be treated seriously it will have to accept its social responsibilities and that includes the necessity to inform itself before commenting in the public arena.
The reality is that we have gone through what will ultimately be seen as the initial stages of the agreement. As the moratorium continues, it will become increasingly harder to manage with diminished resources. It is inevitable that services will diminish. We all aspire to doing more with less. However the reality is that in many cases we will be doing less with fewer resources. That is the consequence of loosing our economic sovereignty. The Government and public service management must be honest with the public instead of creating expectations that cannot be delivered or achieved. This is the world we will live in until growth returns and we can, as a society, overcome our financial crisis.
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