Return to pre-austerity working hours will boost public service

Fórsa today (Monday) welcomed a recommendation that working time in the civil and public service should be restored to pre-austerity levels from 1st July 2022. The recommendation is being made by an Independent Body chaired by Kieron Mulvey, which was charged with resolving the issue under the Building Momentum public service agreement.

The additional working time was introduced for thousands of mostly-female public servants, as an alternative to a third pay cut, under the 2013 Haddington Road agreement (HRA). If the Government accepts Mr Mulvey’s recommendation, it will unwind the final element of the HRA’s austerity measures.

Temporary pay cuts for more senior public servants, also introduced under the HRA, have been restored in recent years, and pay restoration for the very top earners is set to be implemented in July this year. Cuts to overtime and premium payments introduced under the HRA have also been restored, along with other cuts introduced under the HRA.

Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan said the recommendation would remove a longstanding and debilitating drain on morale and productivity across the civil and public service.

“The additional hours introduced under the HRA fell hardest on women with caring responsibilities, and they have been increasingly counterproductive in terms of service delivery, morale and productivity. This recommendation allows the Government to remove the HRA’s final outstanding austerity-era measure and, with it, a deep grievance among many – mostly lower-paid – public servants.

“The acceptance of the recommendation by Government would also significantly enhance the prospect for continued stability in public service delivery and quality, not least by removing a huge obstacle to the successful negotiation of a public service agreement to replace Building Momentum when it expires later this year,” he said.

The additional working hours were imposed from 1st July 2013, when the standard working time of civil and public servants increased to 39 hours for those who previously worked between 35 and 37 hours, and to 37 hours for those who previously worked 35 hours or less. The hours of those working 39 hours or more per week remained the same.

The Independent Body’s recommendation would see a return to the pre-July 2013 hours, albeit with a minimum working week of 35 hours.

The ‘Independent Body Examining Additional Working Hours (HRA) in the Public Service’ was established under the Building Momentum agreement to make recommendations to address the additional working time. Members of the Body briefed Mr Callinan and other officers of the ICTU Public Services Committee on the recommendation ahead of union executive meetings, which were scheduled today in the expectation that the Body’s report would be published by the end of December 2021, as set out in Building Momentum.

Mr Callinan said he was confident that the return to pre-austerity arrangements could be achieved without excessive cost or damage to public service quality or output.

“These workers have shown their mettle during the pandemic. In any case, the technological and work-practice environment in which public services are delivered has altered beyond recognition since the unpaid working time was imposed almost nine years ago, on the basis that a pay cut was the only alternative.

“It has never been correct to assume that increased working time equals increased productivity. Indeed, civil service departments temporarily reduced the working day to seven hours from 7.24 during the Covid-19 pandemic, largely to facilitate social distancing, and productivity was at an all-time high during that period,” he said.

Fórsa said the union would comment further once the final report of the Independent Body is published.

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