Passport office row flares up again

THE dispute between the Department of Foreign Affairs and workers in the country’s passport offices has re-ignited because staff are still being prevented from giving priority to customers with immediate travel plans.

Instead, staff claim that management are insisting they continue to operate on a first-come first-served basis.

Last Thursday a deal was concluded at the Labour Relations between the Department and the Civil, Public and Services Union, which proposed the appointment of 50 temporary staff over the summer months to clear the backlog of more than 61,000 passport applications.

That build-up was due to industrial action by staff in protest at the public service pay cuts imposed by the Government last December. Those cuts, the anger felt by public servants at them, and the resultant industrial action, precipitated the Croke Park deal on public service pay and reform on which trade unions are still balloting.

Another aspect of last Friday’s Labour Relation Commission process was that the Department of Foreign Affairs agreed that those members of the public who need their passports immediately would be given priority over those whose travel plans meant their demand was less urgent.

That condition came after the CPSU said its members had been told by management two weeks earlier that they had to deal with applications on a first-come first-served basis.

The union said as far as it was concerned, the prioritisation was to take effect from this week. However, yesterday, it said management had insisted that the first-come first-served method of processing had to remain in place.

“The decision to withdraw this facility two weeks ago made no sense, and the refusal today to restore it as agreed, is just incomprehensible,” said CPSU general secretary Blair Horan.

“Since the Croke Park negotiations ended, CPSU has made it clear that it had no strategic interest in continuing industrial action in the passport office and we have worked to ensure that all who need a passport for immediate travel can get one. Since CPSU lifted its industrial action, management seems to have gone out of their way to hinder rather than help the travelling public.”

However, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said what was agreed at the LRC did not mean the immediate lifting of the first-come first-serve processing.

It said that in order for the prioritisation to be introduced, the new staff would have to be appointed first and that could not happen until the union confirmed its members were willing to accept all aspect of the Labour Relations Commission recommendation.

“At present we are barely able to issue for life and death situations,” he said.

“If we do not get the extra staff, the backlog will get bigger and we will get more and more emergency cases. There are two essential elements to this agreement. One cannot proceed without the other.”

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