Allowance review must respect Croke Park protections

2nd February 2012

The Government has confirmed that new public servants will not get allowances or premium payments paid to existing staff, pending the outcome of a review currently underway. The same goes for staff promoted, newly assigned or transferred into work areas where allowances exist.

Senior public service managers have been told that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, believes allowances that reflect “work of additional value” or the “arduous nature or unsocial hours” of certain duties and posts remain “valid, appropriate and cost effective.” But management believes others are outdated.

Both the minister and his senior management have said the review, due to conclude by March, must respect the Croke Park agreement and unions have been told there will be full consultation at central and sectoral level.

In a letter to ICTU’s Public Services Committee last year, officials stressed that “any initiatives which would arise should be advanced in compliance with the terms of the Croke Park Agreement and having regard to the primary commitments given by the Government under the agreement.”

The Government last year announced plans for cuts of 10% and 5% respectively in 2012 spending on overtime and premium payments. Public service employers have been given new allocations to reflect the 10% cut in overtime spending. The review of allowances and premium payments, due to be completed at the end of February, aims to facilitate the 5% reduction in this area.

IMPACT says the cut in overtime spending can and must be done without reducing overtime rates themselves. The union points out that overtime costs have already fallen by over 5% – with no cut in the rates – through reforms under the Croke Park agreement.

The union says it is especially important that any changes protect low paid staff whose wage structure leaves them highly dependent on overtime, allowances or premiums.

Announcing the review in late December, secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Robert Watt, said the minister had emphasised that payments which reflect the “arduous nature or unsocial hours” of certain duties and posts or “work of additional value” remained “valid, appropriate and cost effective.”

But the Government believes other allowances reflect outdated practices and “give rise to unnecessary costs and inefficiencies.” These could include payments “overtaken by developments in the qualifications, duties, skills and normal flexibilities now expected” in the public service, according to Mr Watt.

Departmental chiefs have been instructed to rank allowances in terms of total cost and outline the “business case” for those they think should be retained. They have also been invited to indicate where conditions of payment should be modified for certain allowances.