Unions give outsourcing pledge

Monday 2nd April 2012

IMPACT and other unions will insist that detailed safeguards and procedures set out in the Croke Park agreement are followed whenever outsourcing is proposed, with unions insisting that detailed safeguards and procedures set out in the Croke Park agreement are followed whenever outsourcing is proposed.

The agreement is unambiguous on how outsourcing proposals should be treated. Union concerns about the potentially damaging impact of privatisation on jobs and service quality ensured intense scrutiny and discussion of the controversial issue during the 2010 negotiations that led to the agreement.

If anything, attitudes have hardened since then, informed by the privatisation of domestic refuse services in Dublin councils, where union warnings of service breakdowns, job losses, increases in domestic charges, public health issues, and the abandonment of waivers for low income families were ignored. All these issues quickly emerged as problems once once services were outsourced.

The issue has re-emerged following the leak of a letter from Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Secretary General Robert Watt to civil service departmental heads, in which he urges them to list possible outsourcing “options” by the end of this month.

Mr Watt’s letter notes that the Croke Park agreement contains provisions “that should be followed when management decides to involve a private sector entity in the provision of a new or existing public service.” But this understates the rigour of the provisions in the agreement, which are set out as an appendix on ‘service delivery options.’ These provisions oblige management to:

  • The use of direct labour “to the greatest extent possible”
  • The maintenance of wages and employment standards in all procurement policy
  • No compulsory redundancies as a result of any outsourcing
  • Consultation with unions on “all aspects of the procurement process at key stages before decisions are made”
  • The development of a ‘service plan’ and an evaluation and comparison of in-house and outsourcing options – and an agreed plan to change in-house arrangements if necessary – before any outsourcing option can be used, and

The inclusion of all relevant costs – not just pay rates – in this evaluation.

After all this, management is required to continue regular consultation with unions even if outsourcing goes ahead. And the pay, pensions and other conditions of staff remaining in the public service can’t be worsened if outsourcing takes place. The parties are also committed to establishing a mechanism for monitoring contractors’ compliance with employment law.

Historically there has always been a mix of public, voluntary and private provision in the delivery of Irish public services and few, if any, Irish unions have taken a position of blanket opposition to any private provision. Similarly, unions reject the view that private provision is necessarily better or more cost effective than direct public provision which, as the Croke Park agreement underlines, should remain the basis of public service provision.