Howlin: Wildly out of line public service leave set to be standardised

THE Government has confirmed it is to standardise leave arrangements for public servants to eradicate holiday entitlements which are “wildly out of line with those in the private sector”.

The move comes in the wake of revelations that some in the public service are receiving in excess of 40 days’ leave each year.

Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin yesterday confirmed what will, in essence, be a two-tier approach to leave for state employees.

Mr Howlin indicated that new entrants to the public service would be subject to lower holiday entitlements while existing employees would have a maximum and minimum limit placed on their days off.

He said standardising leave in the public service was a daunting task because arrangements appeared to have grown like “topsy” in various sectors.

“Even within sectors like local government people were surprised at the leave arrangements that individual counties were applying.

“I tell you, frankly, it can be hard to defend the hard work of public servants when, simultaneously, some are refusing to acknowledge working hours and leave arrangements that are wildly out of line with those in the private sector,” he said.

Speaking at IMPACT’s Health, Welfare and Civil Service conferences in Tralee, Mr Howlin said the public service would have to have the same leave arrangements as the private sector.

“We have talked about a ceiling as a start. There will obviously have to be a floor as well. We will drive, through negotiation, an acceptable narrow range of leave throughout the public service.”

However, he would not give numbers as they are subject to negotiations.

Regarding the unions, he said: “We have opened negotiations, shall we say. We will be spelling out exactly our targets when the complete review of Croke Park is done. We are gathering the material right now, we will be explaining what we have achieved and setting out exactly what we want to achieve for the rest of this year, including leave arrangements.”

Asked if the Government would consider buying out the leave entitlements, he said: “There will be no money put on the table because we don’t have any money to put on the table.”

Mr Howlin stressed that reform of the public services was essential because the country is dependent on borrowed money.

In spite of the need to make savings, however, he said there had been no consideration given to a voluntary redundancy and retirement scheme.

He also said, in spite of claims by HSE director of human resources Sean McGrath at the same conference that staffing numbers in the health service were at “bedrock”, there was no plans to lift the moratorium on recruitment.

“There is no area of the public service that is comfortable with a moratorium,” he said. “We need to drive down numbers because we can’t pay for people. That is the simple inescapable fact. But obviously if there are anomalies we are looking at on a case by case basis to see if they can be addressed. If there are urgent cases to be made they will be considered.”

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