Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants


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ADC 2008

(09 May 2008)


Address by AHCPS Chairperson, Ciaran Rohan

Chuireann sé mór-áthas orm fáilte a chuir roimh gach éinne inniu. Colleagues, I am privileged to welcome you the members, our guests and our fraternal delegates from Northern Ireland and England to the 2008 Annual Delegate Conference of the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants. I consider it a great honour to have been Chairperson of the Association for the past year and I thank you for giving me that chance.

I don’t know if some of you ended up in the Burlington Hotel this morning but it’s a great opportunity for me to address you from this our first visit to Croke Park. As a Corkman I am accustomed to being in the hallowed surroundings of this magnificent stadium but for those of you, who haven’t been here before, enjoy your day.

I must begin my address to you today on a somewhat downbeat note, as I pay tribute to the memory of two former leading activists in the Association who passed away during the year.

Mick O’Donoghue, a former member of the Revenue branch, died in March this year. Mick was Chairman of the Association and served in that role between 1989 and 1991. We were also saddened by the death of Charlie Murray. Charlie was a member of the Finance branch and also a Chairman of the Association, serving between 1957 and 1959.

I want to briefly review what has been a very busy year for the Association. Some of the issues that I will touch on are the subject of motions on the agenda today, and will be covered by the General Secretary, Dave Thomas, in his address to Conference on the Annual Report, so I don't intend to discuss them in detail in my address.

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It was a year in which certain issues such as decentralisation continued to dominate the agenda. I would like to re-iterate that the Association is not opposed to decentralisation. Decentralisation, when properly planned and introduced is fully supported by the Association. But, unfortunately, a significant element of the current programme is not properly thought out. For example, one of the major challenges that arise is that, as the programme gathers more pace and more members are being transferred between Departments, the “churn” factor becomes very high. This is causing significant service delivery problems for our members and must be addressed by Government. The recently-published OECD review of the Irish Pubic Service considered that there are many challenges inherent in the decentralisation programme. Among the issues it noted were that a significant number of applicants for new decentralised locations were already based in provincial locations and that many of the Dublin-based applicants had applied to areas that were over-subscribed.

Staying with the theme of the OECD review, they also note that, even though there are less people employed in the Irish Public Service and that our expenditure is coming from an historically low base, the quality of the Irish Public Service compares very favourably with other OECD countries.

The new national pay talks have started. However, they have commenced against a backdrop of rising disquiet because of the erosion, by inflation, of the increases agreed under Towards 2016. In addition, early in the New Year, saw the publication of the report of the Public Sector Benchmarking Body. I don’t need to remind you how disappointed we all were with the outcome of this report. There must be confidence in any independent pay determination system and, while we would undoubtedly wish to see an independent system in operation, we need to examine whether we can have trust in the current system or whether changes need to be made.

So, while the national social partnership model has been good for AHCPS members, we will not enter talks for talk’s sake. Along with our colleague Unions from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, we will not enter into a pay agreement that effectively reduces our members pay in real terms.

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It was a year in which there remain a number of outstanding issues in the Semi-State Sector. Our members at Level 3 in An Post are currently considering new proposals in relation to performance related pay. Decentralisation continues to be a major concern for our members in FÁS and in the other semi-state agencies. In the Irish Aviation Authority, along with the other Unions, we are in discussions with management regarding their proposals to amend the pension scheme.

What could be one of the biggest changes to the State’s industrial relations machinery in over fifty years could be upon us in the forthcoming year. The two largest civil service unions, who have the majority of seats on the Staff Panel, have decided to pull out of the Conciliation and Arbitration scheme and lodge a claim to allow the Labour Relations Commission and Labour Court to deal with claims from the civil service unions in the context of industrial relations matters. This is potentially a significant challenge for the Association but one which we are ready to meet.

In conclusion, I would like to record my appreciation of the hard work put in all through the year by my colleagues on the Executive Committee. I would particularly like to thank my fellow officers, Peadar Carpenter and Mary McLoughlin for their effort and their wisdom. I also want to wish the very best of luck to Peadar as incoming Chairperson and Tom Allen as incoming Vice-Chairperson.

I would like to pay tribute to the Association’s many Branch activists and Committee members. Branch activists, who are in regular communication with members, are vital to the success of any Association or Union, and the AHCPS is no exception. Can I also thank Tom Quigley, Joe Brennan and Laura Noonan for helping out with the conference today and indeed throughout the year.

I would like to thank my own colleagues on the Education and Science branch for giving me the opportunity to represent them on Executive and as Vice-Chairperson and Chairperson of the Association.

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I cannot emphasise enough how grateful I am for the professionalism, expertise, invaluable advice and hard work of the Association’s officials and staff – Dorothy Aughey, Pat Feeney, Jackie Lacey, John Kelleher and Dave Thomas. Of course I have to say nice things about the Head Office staff as I was delighted to be recently appointed to the position of Assistant General Secretary of the Association. I look forward to working with Head Office staff and working for the Executive and you the members in my new capacity.

As I said at the outset, it is my privilege to welcome you all to Croke Park. I wish you all the best for a productive and enjoyable Conference today.

Bail ó Dhia ar an obhair atá le déanamh againn inniu.

Thank you.

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Address by AHCPS General Secretary, Dave Thomas

Chairperson, delegates, guests
During the past year we have had the publication of the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector in September and the Report of the Public Service Benchmarking Body in January and The OECD Report Ireland Towards an Integrated Public Service in April. These together with the commencement of new talks on a national pay agreement will be the focus of activity for the incoming Executive.

The Association during the year appointed John Kelleher as Deputy General Secretary. John who served as Assistant General Secretary with the Association for a number of years took up his appointment last December. Ciaran Rohan who is currently Chairperson of the Association was appointed as Assistant General Secretary following a competitive selection process. Ciaran is due to take up appointment shortly.

Pay & Benchmarking
The first three installment of the present national pay agreement have been paid in the civil service and in most of the non-commercial semi-state organisation with the final payment due on 1st September 2008. While talks have started on a new agreement there are difficulties particularly on the union side. Different unions have put down different requirements and markers. ICTU have said that they want union recognition sorted out legally and they want the agency workers to be covered by the relevant labour legislation. Some unions feel that the national pay talks in recent years have been too restrictive and have come to a view that “one size does not fit all”. Some of the unions representing lower paid workers want a minimum fixed amount increase instead of a percentage increase. The last agreement did not keep pace with inflation and the union side want this shortfall to be addressed.

However, talks have started and the Association will be involved in the talks at a later stage when they get down to discussing the civil service elements. This will be a difficult phase for the civil service unions because of the results of the benchmarking body report published in January this year. The benchmarking body gave a 1.1% award to the Principal Officer grades and those linked to the PO grades and 0% to all other grades in the civil service. This Benchmarking Body changed the methodology which it used to compare civil service grades and other public service grades with the private sector. There were three main elements which were changed in the methodology. They were

1. The use of a weighted average,
2. A larger number of smaller firms were used for comparison purposes
3. A deduction of 12% for the value of civil service pensions was made.

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In the first Benchmarking Body Report and previous arbitrations the mid point of the civil service pay scale was the point that was compared to the pay in the private sector comparator. This time around the weighted average was used. The effect of this was that the PO and AP salaries were pitched at a higher level than they would have been if they had used the mid point of the scale. In our own case we know that it would have brought the PO and AP salaries very close to the max point. So the Body in using the weighted average used a higher civil service point than had been used on previous occasions and no reason was given for this change. This doesn’t make sense because you could have two grades a professional and a general service grade with the same salary scale but could have weighted averages which would differ widely.

In relation to the comparison of the private sector the body compared the civil service to 172 employments employing less than 100 staff and with only 35 employing more than 250 staff. This had a major impact on the level of pay of the grades we were compared with. Anybody who knows the civil service knows that most people are working in Departments with 1,000 or more staff. Revenue alone have approximately 6,500 employees and Social & Family Affairs have about 3,000 employees. The effect of this was that pay comparators in the private sector were considerable lower than they would have been if the comparisons was with companies with 500 employees or more. The level of responsibilities in bigger companies is higher and the pay of management grades is reflected in this higher level of responsibility.

Finally, the body deducted 12% for the value of public service pensions. Let us now say once and for all. We have paid for our pensions so let that be the end of the issue about public service pensions “hands off our pensions”. We did make the point in our submission to the benchmarking body that if you compare the senior management grades of PO and AP in the civil service with senior management grades in the private sector then the reduction for pensions would not have been as high because the majority of people at our level in the private sector have pensions and good pension schemes at that. When you apply one size fits all across the public sector it transpires that people at the lower end in the private sector don’t have as good a pension or don’t have pensions at all. We need to compare like with like.

The Executive will now have to consider the Association’s position going forward. One of the issues it is considering is whether there is a need for two review bodies on pay such as the Review Body on Higher Remuneration and The Benchmarking Body or whether the one body should do the whole exercise. Most of the grades examined by the Review Body on Higher Remuneration received increases.

It is inexplicable that the Secretary Generals and Assistant Secretaries received between the interim award in 2005 and the award in 2007 awards of 19.1% and 13% respectively and the grades that their work and responsibilities has been devolved to only receive 1.1% and 0%.

The Executive accepts that there is a need for some form of independent review of civil and public service pay. However, we are not sure if the present system is the correct system. Whatever system is agreed the Association will insist that as part of the terms of reference the methodology to be used will have to be agreed in advance.

The new pay talks will have to take into account that there was no award made to the vast majority of public servants. Modernisation and change will have to be paid for by increases above the projected rate of inflation. Additionally, our members are not going to continually accept the delegation of work from a higher level and receive no pay increase for this increased responsibility while the grades directly above us pull further and further ahead in pay.

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Conciliation & Arbitration Scheme
On the Conciliation and Arbitration front there have been discussions at General Council Staff Panel over recent years in relation to abandoning the C&A scheme and using the Labour Relations Commission and Labour Court. IMPACT & CPSU have had motions passed at their conferences for the C&A scheme to be abandoned and to take the conciliation process into the LRC and Labour Court. It has now come to a head and it is likely that the Association along with PSEU, VOA and POA will be out voted. This will be the biggest change to the industrial relations machinery in the civil service in over 60 years.

While this will have some major consequences for us mainly in the area of pay. Under the C&A machinery the government of the day could only overturn a pay award by a vote of the Dail. This has only happened twice in the last 50 years or so. All is not doom and gloom however, as the Labour Relations Commission and Labour Court, offer some flexibility in the industrial relations field which the C & A doesn’t and there are other advantages in going to the Labour Relation Commission and Labour Court. If the proposed changes happen individual civil servants will have access to Rights Commissioners in relation to all types of grievances which they don’t have now.

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The principle issue that has dominated industrial relations in the civil service for the past four years is decentralisation. The Association along with the other civil service unions meet on a monthly basis in the Department of Finance to discuss issues that are of concern and to agree on structures to accommodate our members.

The reality of the decentralisation programme is that everybody from the Taoiseach (past and present) down knows that there are aspects of it that don’t make sense.

In addition the OECD in its recent report made some comments on the decentralisation programme. They note that from the official reports of the Decentralisation Implementation Group that many of those opting to avail of the programme are staff who have already moved out of Dublin and who are working in other locations. This is not what was envisaged at the inception of the decentralisation programme. They also note that while there are 6,000 currently based in Dublin who wish to avail of decentralisation many of them have applied to over subscribed locations and it is unlikely that all of these applicants will be accommodated.

The OECD said and I quote “that while it had not reviewed the administrative relocation programme per se, it should be noted that the impacts of this programme as currently envisaged poses a number of challenges for the Irish Public service. Staff will be dispersed widely and many will be new to departments’ and that in some areas, turnover of staff who were opting not to relocate with their department or offices could be as high as 90%. In addition to the loss of expertise and knowledge, this presents challenges for management level staff (who in many cases are also experiencing staff turnover) to ensure appropriate training is provided so that business and services continue without loss of quality or effectiveness. This will impose additional specific pressures on the Irish Public Service, as compared to the public services in other countries, which in other respects, share the same challenges as their Irish counterparts”.

These were similar to the points the Association made when we published our two reports on Decentralisation. Last year we published a report which called for a review and now given what was said by the OECD and given what our experience to date has been there is now even a greater need to review the whole process.

We have stated previously that we are not opposed to decentralisation We recognise and welcome the benefits to the public and to our members of a well thought out and rational model of decentralisation. But the current programme has major flaws.

Decentralisation tags are being put on promotion within the civil service and members are taking promotions in these cases with a view to returning at some future date. The problems we see is that in the future there will not be enough vacancies in Dublin for these people to return.

It is more difficult for our members in semi state agencies because when the organisation moves, they have nowhere else to transfer and also the agencies have not enough volunteers to decentralise. If the review is put off any longer the Government will have created a mess where a sizeable minority of people have taken up jobs with an agreement to decentralise and have made arrangements to buy houses in decentralised locations and also a sizeable majority of people who have no intention of moving and will have to be fixed up with jobs in Dublin. The sooner a review takes place the sooner there will be agreement with Government on decentralisation.

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The OECD were asked to examine the Irish Public Service and to

1) benchmark it against other comparable countries
2) to make recommendations as to future direction for public service reform.

Firstly, let me say that we welcome the report. It states that the Irish Public Service stands up well when compared with Public Services in other countries. It notes that the numbers employed in the Irish Public Service are significantly less in relative terms than the level of public employment in Norway, Sweden, France, Finland or Belgium.

Although expenditure on the Public Service has also increased substantially in the same period, the OECD Report points out that much of these increases have reflected a need to play catch-up from historically low levels. Even when factoring in infrastructural investment, Ireland has the third smallest total public expenditure as a percentage of GDP, (third to Korea and Mexico). In comparison with other OECD countries therefore, Ireland has been able to deliver services with a Public Service that is relatively small given the size of the economy and labour force.

The Association will engage with the Official Side on the recommendations in the report.

The former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has put on record as recently as last week and I quote “Throughout my political career, I have seen at first hand the quality and professionalism of our system. Of course, no system is perfect, but I have been struck, time and again, by the quality of the advice and service delivered by Irish public servants. They regularly outshine much bigger and better-resourced public service organisations in other jurisdictions”.

This is my first Conference as General Secretary. I would like to thank the officers, Ciaran, Peadar and Mary and the Executive Committee for their help and support over the last year.

I want to thank Brian Ingoldsby and Standing Orders Committee for their customary care and attention to organising Conference business and I especially would like to wish John Gordon who is retiring well. John has been a long standing member of Standing Orders. I want to thank Tom Quigley for his help over the year and a special thanks to Laura Noonan who has agreed to help us this year with the minutes with the assistance of Joe Brennan. I also want to thank the people with whom I work with in the Association, John, Jackie, Dorothy and Pat. Finally, I wish to thank Branch Officers and you the delegates for your help this year and hopefully for the years ahead.

I propose the Annual Report to the Conference.

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