Public sector pay scales 'outdated', admits union chief

The head of the Irish trade union movement has today admitted that the public sector allowance system is outdated.

Irish Congress of Trade Unions general secretary David Begg said public-sector pay scales need to be addressed to update the system.

He warned pay structures should be refashioned in a more logical and sensible way.

“That’s a matter for the employers and the unions and public service to do over a period of time,” said Mr Begg.

Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin said he strongly agreed with the Congress boss, adding he had already called for an overhaul of the way in which public servants are paid.

He made the claim less than a week after he announced his department had failed in its target to save €75m in public sector pay bonuses.

Only one of 1,100 allowances for existing staff could be scrapped – a €218 representational allowance for staff attending European Union meetings.

That saved €3.5m of the original €75m targeted.

Around 30% of Government spending goes on pay – an estimated €15.4bn.

Public servants, including school principals, gardaí, doctors and nurses, are given allowances on top of their salary. This includes bonuses for working bank holidays and unsociable hours, and travel expenses.

But Mr Begg said not all allowances that are given to workers truly reflect the reasons for the subsidy.

He said they were often introduced as a “surrogate” for pay increases when people were given more responsibilities.

Where the public sector could not give an individual a pay rise without doing the same for other workers, it would grant a certain allowance – the title of which may not necessarily have properly reflected the reason it was given.

Mr Begg also told RTÉ Radio that employers and unions would be better suited to revise public sector allowances and pay scales – as opposed to the Labour Court, which handles industrial relations disputes.

He said the latter process would be too lengthy.

Minister Howlin claimed he wanted to deliver reform to public sector allowances - but in a way that ensured workers maintained a good standard of pay.

“I strongly agree with the views of David Begg,” said Mr Howlin.

“He simply re-echoed what I said at the press conference last week and when I announced the 200 action programme earlier this month, which is, to achieve real reform we require intensive restructuring of allowances and pay – especially in the areas of health, education, defence and the gardai.”

Despite broadly failing in his attempt to save €75m by cutting public sector bonuses, the Minister announced some changes to the scheme.

Travel and expenses claims for officials going overseas to represent Ireland will be abolished altogether, while new entrants to State jobs will not be paid certain allowances. The current bill for these is €475m.

Another set of allowances valued at €245m will also be modified.

Meanwhile, following Mr Howlin’s failed public expenses clean-up, the Government’s spending watchdog announced plans to carry out its own review.

The Public Accounts Committee pledged to scrutinise all public allowances – on a case-by-case basis.

It has already announced its intentions to call for a special hospital consultant pre-retirement bonus to be binned.

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