Policy to tackle poor work performance by civil servants gets green light

A new policy to tackle poor work performance by civil servants has been given the green light by the Civil Service Arbitration Board, despite concerns by staff representative bodies.

The board says the proposed underperformance policy is “compatible with good HR practice”. However, it recommended its introduction be delayed until January 1, 2017 to coincide with the first year of a revised performance rating system across the civil service.

The CSAB says it believes the manner of the policy’s introduction is equally important to gain maximum support from the country’s 36,000 civil servants. The board examined the issue after Department of Public Expenditure and Reform officials and the Civil Service General Council Staff Panel (CSGCSP) failed to reach agreement in talks which began last September.

The CSGCSP, which has representatives from four of the biggest civil service trade unions, opposed the department’s plans to strengthen the linkage between underperformance and discipline. It expressed concern that a revised performance rating system, whose first results will be known at the end of 2016, is untested. They believe that more civil servants would be deemed “unsatisfactory” under a new two-point rating scale.

However, department officials say the new underperformance policy will give a clear process for management and staff who have not improved after warnings.

The need to strengthen measures to take more effective and decisive actions to tackle poor performance, including dismissal, was identified in the Civil Service Renewal Plan launched in October 2014. Between 2010 and 2014 less than 1% of staff were rated as unsatisfactory under the performance management system used within the civil service.

A review of the system in 2010 concluded that: “The award of too many high ratings and too few low ratings is the established practice.

“The new policy is designed to improve existing underperformance arrangements, providing greater transparency with processes built on principles of natural justice and closely reflects good HR practice in other sectors.”

They outlined how the policy would seek to address underperformance through informal procedures in the first instance. Failing that a performance improvement plan would be activated which would provide for at least five progress meetings with affected staff with warnings issued in a progressive manner.

The department says the full protections of the disciplinary code will be offered to employees. It claims the policy is robust because its rehabilitative element, combined with an 18-month timeframe, allows for appeals against negative findings.

Officials stressed that they do not envisage any individual who is medically unfit coming within the scope of the policy. However, if performance remains unsatisfactory at the conclusion of the performance improvement plan, a disciplinary meeting will be held where actions up to and including dismissal can be taken.

Civil servants will not receive warnings “out of the blue” and individuals will be made aware of any issues — and the consequences if there is no improvement in their performance “in a timely fashion”.

While civil service unions said they are not opposed to an underperformance policy, they do not agree with the status of warnings being proposed by the department.


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