€7 million medical labs deal shows how Croke Park reforms are different

Thursday 23rd February 2012

Radical reforms of working arrangements in medical laboratories are
now saving taxpayers €7 million a year. They are also a prime example of
how public service reform is being done differently, thanks to the
Croke Park agreement.

“We keep hearing that nothing has changed in the public service. But
if our critics seriously want reform rather than just cuts, they ought
to be looking closely at this example which couldn’t have happened
without the agreement,” says union official Stephen O’Neill who led
IMPACT in the implementation of the changes.

The reforms vastly reduced the cost of premium payments by
introducing an extended 8-8 working day. A similar approach has since
been taken in other areas of the public service.

“The cost savings and a better service are the immediate prize. From
the unions’ point of view  “SIPTU was also instrumental in achieving the
reforms” it was also important to prevent privatisation. But the way
this was done also represents a radical departure in the way we do
public service reform,” say O’Neill. He makes the simple point that,
although the change leaves many IMPACT members substantially out of
pocket, there was never a threat of industrial action or

“We didn’t even consider it. And, because it was in the Croke Park
agreement, the change was implemented quickly and without fuss. In the
past, members would have wanted this put on the long finger and kicked
into a lengthy and complicated process. But they’d signed up for the
changes because the country’s in a mess and they needed to protect their
pay and pensions. So my job was to make sure it happened,” he says.

Stephen brushes off criticisms of unions for negotiating a short-term
“buy-out” of expensive premium payments. “What we did is common
practice in decent private sector companies. For a relatively small
short-term cost, the HSE will save millions over the years because our
members have taken a hit,” he said.

The reforms will save taxpayers over €7 million a year while
improving services. It’s one of many challenging reforms that public
servants are now implementing, often with big changes to their working
arrangements, commuting times or even their incomes.