Irish civil service union calls for cut in working hours

By on 13/05/2019
Callinen: legacy of 2013 agreement is anomaly that “continues to disadvantage lower paid workers” (Image courtesy: Fórsa/Dylan Vaughan).

The Irish government’s failure to cut the working hours of more junior civil servants has created “a two-tier public service”, the incoming head of the country’s largest public sector union has warned.

In 2013, lower and middle earners agreed to work an extra 2.25 hours a week under the Haddington Road Agreement, in order to stave off a third pay cut amidst Ireland’s protracted economic crisis.

But the incoming General-Secretary of Fórsa, Kevin Callinan, told the union’s conference last week that has become unfair to leave the longer working week in place. Responding to a motion challenging the raised working hours, he said: “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.”

Time poor

Under the agreement, higher income civil servants on salaries of €65,000 (US$73,000) or above took a temporary third pay cut. This has since been reversed, said Fórsa.

But more junior officials are still working extended hours – an extra 75,000 hours per week in total, according to the union, which has 80,000 members.

Fórsa officials said this meant wages have decreased in real terms and, on an hourly basis, civil servants earn only 93% of what they did a decade ago. 

Share the benefits

It’s time that less senior officials also enjoyed the benefits of Ireland’s recovery, argued Callinan, commenting: “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.”

He added that the extra working hours were worth “about 6% in rough figures”, the Irish Times reported.

Disputed numbers

The Department of Finance has said that it would cost €600m (US£675m) to reduce working hours to pre-2013 levels.

But Callinan disputed this figure, saying the figure is at least double what the government claimed as its savings when the longer hours were rolled out.

He added that advances in technology and work organisation could offset much of the cost of reduced working time. Reduced working hours should be discussed as part of the mid-term review of the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA), said Callinan.

We shouldn’t need to strike

Fórsa’s calls come after Irish nurses secured a €35m (US$39m) benefits package following strike action earlier this year.

The conditions included salary improvements for staff nurses and midwives, increased allowances, more promotional opportunities, and a commitment to safe staffing levels.

Callinan said it would not “be tenable to maintain confidence in the agreement for another 19 or 20 months in circumstances where some groups seemed to be getting more rewards than others by taking a particular approach to the agreement,” according to the Irish Times.

Fórsa was formed in 2018 in a merger of the unions IMPACT, the Civil, Public and Services Union (CPSU), and the Public Service Executive Union (PSEU). It is the second largest union in Ireland, and says it is “by far the largest trade union voice in the Irish civil and public service.”

About William Worley

Will Worley is a freelance journalist interested in government, policy and international affairs.

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