Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants


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We're not seeking a bonanza

(06 May 2015)

We’re not seeking a ‘bonanza’ for public sector – but pay cuts should be revisited

‘A disproportionate amount of the burden of adjustment in the public finances had fallen on public servants during the recession and it is time to even the playing field’

Wed, May 6, 2015, 17:00

Ciaran Rohan

The economic trauma of recent years has been immensely damaging to the fabric of our society. No community or walk of life has been untouched. Much of the fabric of social solidarity that was an asset to us as a nation was rent apart. Pillorying the public sector in general, and the civil service in particular was part of this corrosive dialogue.

Certain types of glib analysis became par for the course. This reductive approach may have garnered some headlines but has contributed little to the process of reform and mature dialogue.

The fact is that members of my union have had to bear pay reductions of up to 23 per cent. In the meantime staffing levels have reduced by 10 per cent since 2008. Civil servants have had to juggle an increasingly onerous workload, in an infrastructure that has been cut to the bone. Civil servants working in Government departments have seen their workload increase twofold while seeing their resources shrink. Notwithstanding these challenges they have continued to provide strong support to the State, in the best traditions of public service. It is also important to note that, unlike the private sector, which in a recession sees falls in demand, the demands on public services increase considerably during the recession.

The current situation is unsustainable and while the Government has allowed for some modest recruitment, much more needs to be done.

Civil service bashing does our society a disservice. However we as civil servants also have to reflect on the fact that there is not sufficient awareness of the work carried out by civil servants and its intrinsic value to the state. Public servants – and the 3,000 civil servants that the AHCPS represents – have played no small part in this economic recovery. The often unseen and unrecognised work of these people keeps our country functioning effectively. Civil servants process social welfare payments, they process single farm payments, they represent Ireland’s interests in Europe, and they support Government departments in all their daily activities.

We must now look at mechanisms to allow for greater visibility, a window into the valuable work our members carry out.

In its spring statement last week, the Government finally accepted that the public service is now considerably smaller, less expensive and more productive. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin TD said he was proud of the response by public servants to additional workload.

This public recognition for the efforts being made by the public sector is welcome – especially as we look ahead to entering discussions with Brendan Howlin on public service pay.

As a result of collective efforts and sacrifices, the country’s economic situation is improving. Unemployment is dropping and Exchequer income is increasing. Thankfully, the country is no longer in a state of financial emergency.

Of course, any discussion around pay restoration must keep sustainability at its core. No one wants to jeopardise the stability that we have achieved as a society. We are not seeking a “bonanza for the public sector” as one Government source was quoted as saying in a recent newspaper report. But the pay reductions we have experienced were introduced as part of financial emergency legislation and – now that we are no longer in a state of financial emergency – it is appropriate and fair that they are re-examined.

When we talk of reform, what’s not commonly understood or known – is that the people who are probably most in favour of reform are those working in the public sector itself. Our members support many of the measures in the Government Civil Service Renewal Plan, including the proposal for the establishment of a Civil Service Accountability Board. Our members are positive agents of change and reform.

The Irish Civil Service is highly skilled and effectual. It is comparatively small in European terms, yet our record, reputation and reliability is on record as being among the best in Europe. We very much supported the appointment of a head of the Irish civil service – one of the key recommendations last year from the Government-appointed, independent panel chaired by Dr Kevin Rafter. However the Government baulked at this suggestion and if anything it is the Government that has taken a more cautious approach to the matter of reform.

Now as we look ahead to the discussions between trade unions and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and to Budget 2016, Government and elected representatives have a lot to consider. The delivery of high quality, sustainable public services is at the core of our economic recovery. It is time to move on from the public sector and civil service bashing that we have witnessed in the last number of years. The vying of public against private that we see waged out in the media all too frequently creates an unnecessary divide in our society.

We are certainly not looking for special treatment but we are looking to be treated fairly. A disproportionate amount of the burden of adjustment in the public finances had fallen on public servants during the recession and it is time to even the playing field.

Ciaran Rohan is General Secretary of the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants (AHCPS). The AHCPS annual delegate conference takes place on Friday, May 8th.


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Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants