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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 21 Nov 1956

Vol. 160 No. 9

Committee on Finance. - Civil Service Commissioners Bill, 1956—Committee and Final Stages.

Sections 1 to 14, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:—

To add to the section the following new sub-section:—

( ) Where a Minister desires to confer established appointments on members of a grade or grades which are non-established grades, the Minister may request the commissioners to hold a competition to test the suitability of such persons for appointments to established positions and in such cases the Commissioners shall be empowered to hold the competition under sub-section (3) of this section.

The purpose of this amendment is to try and provide a medium whereby some relief can be granted in the existing situation where we have such a large number of unestablished State employees. I am not quite clear about the figure but I understand that at the present moment the number of such officials is in the neighbourhood of 16,000 to 17,000. I have a very limited interest from the point of view of my trade union, but I am aware the problem is a very wide one. I appreciate that from the point of view of the State it would involve a considerable amount if steps were taken to place all of these civil servants in established positions because they would then be in a position that would entitle them to superannuation. As I understand it, from time to time certain sections of unestablished civil servants may be regarded with favour by the Minister and he may feel that it would be desirable to try and establish them. However, as the law stands at the moment, certain practical difficulties arise.

Possibly I am not completely accurate in some of the views I may be expressing but I will be excused on the grounds that I am trying to interpret a somewhat complicated position. In so far as appointments are concerned the procedure is that the Minister would request the commissioners to hold a competition for certain appointments. One of the difficulties that has been experienced in dealing with many of the unestablished civil servants is that it has not been possible to hold such competitions, particularly in regard to persons engaged in manual work.

It will be seen that the purpose of the amendment is to provide for the following new sub-section:—

"Where a Minister desires to confer established appointments on members of a grade or grades which are non-established grades, the Minister may request the commissioners to hold a competition to test the suitability of such persons for appointments to established position and in such cases the commissioners shall be empowered to hold the competition under sub-section (3) of this section."

Sub-section (3) sets down in some detail the type of competition which the commissioners may hold. I gather that if the Minister desires to take the necessary steps to establish an existing non-established grade and if such a request is made, the only question that arises then is whether or not it is possible for the commissioners to comply with the requirements of the provisions of the Bill in respect of holding competitions. I gather that in the commissioners' view in many instances, because the particular grade were only engaged in manual services, it was impossible to establish a form of competition, although in sub-section (3) we have a number of alternatives offered. We have the ordinary written examination, an oral examination and an interview. There is also a practical examination and there are other tests which the commissioners may consider to be appropriate.

If it is a question that there is no desire on the part of a Minister to establish non-established grade then the problem I am dealing with naturally does not arise. Until the conviction is born in the mind of the Minister and he secures the necessary authority, there is no opportunity of examining the machinery available to give effect to the Minister's desire. A great play has been made about the impracticability of carrying out tests or competitions which would make it possible for the Minister, if he wished, to confer established status on many of the non-established grades.

I think the main burden of my argument can be most effectively conveyed to the House by referring to the copy of Iris Oifigiúil in which the Commissioners give official notification that they propose to hold confined competitive examinations for established situations as female stores assistants in the Stores Branch of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. First of all, the number of positions is not very great; only four are involved. Secondly, the assistants in the Stores Branch are originally recruited from ordinary factory girls who are employed in the post office factory.

When we come to consider how the Commissioners propose to comply with the existing provisions in regard to the holding of competitions it seems to me that the Commissioners are very fertile —I will not say in their method of getting through the obstacles set down —but in their method of complying with the requirements, because the competitive examinations which they propose to hold for these four established positions consist, first of all, of an oral examination and interview, and, secondly, of an optional test in Irish. There is no indication as to what the oral examination and interview will consist of. It may well consist of asking them their names and addresses. Some little indication is given further down, however, because the Commissioners, apparently being concerned about the proper discharge of their duties, propose that the oral examination will consist of an oral test in English. The test itself will consist of "the reading and the meaning of words." For that a maximum of 50 marks will be allowed. There are certain other regulations some of which in fact, confine the examination to employees in this particular department of the post office who have had three years' continuous service, whose conduct has been satisfactory, etc.

The whole point is that we are dealing with a proposal to establish what in fact is a very small number of female employees who have graduated from doing clearly manual factory work to the point where they are now stores assistants, and in order to do that and comply with the regulations, a competitive examination is to be held. The competitive examination consists of reading and the meaning of words—probably there will be a number of other questions in the course of the interview—and an optional test in Irish, which is subject to a total of securing an additional 50 marks.

I do not want to suggest that the commissioners have not taken this matter quite seriously but it does seem to me that, if that is the way in which we have to apply the test of competitive examinations, there can be no argument at all against the acceptance of the amendment I have here and there can be no difficulty experienced subsequently on the part of the commissioners if they receive a request from the Minister to hold competitive examinations for any type of employment in the service. Even if it is only for standing still at the door they should be able to exercise their ingenuity and comply with the Minister's wishes.

On the general position I feel this is an important matter. Since there is some provision for recruitment after long periods of service, in effect the principle of recognition of service by some monetary reward is accepted. The only difficulty is that the provision is somewhat meagre and limited and does not meet the modern concept of the obligation of an employer to provide reasonable pension benefits for their employees who have given long service or who have to retire by virtue of age or illness. To that extent, apart altogether from the practical problem involved in the present amendment, I would appeal to the Minister to accept my amendment, particularly if it is of help to him in easing the position so far as reducing the number of non-established servants is concerned or making it easier for the commissioners to give effect to the requests from the Minister from time to time.

I appreciate the overall problem is a financial problem. Nevertheless when we come across employees of the State in fairly humble positions who have given periods of 25, 30 or more years' service and we are not in a position to accord to them the same measure of recognition and security in the form of superannuation as has been possible to accord to established servants, I think it is a case that deserves sympathy, and if this amendment will contribute towards ending that practical difficulty I trust it will be accepted.

There are, of course, the difficulties in regard to competitions such as the Deputy has indicated and there are the difficulties in relation to unestablished civil servants such as those which he has enumerated. But be those problems as they may, the amendment that the Deputy suggests to insert here to Section 15 does not in fact give any powers of consequence in addition to the powers already available. The commission have quite adequate powers in Sections 13 and 14 to hold confined competitions for the establishment of serving unestablished and temporary officers and, in fact, do hold such competitions, as the Deputy indicated, by the reference he made to Iris Oifigiúil.

The only difference between the Deputy's amendment and the position as it appears in Sections 13 and 14 is that in the Deputy's amendment it is mandatory on the Civil Service Commissioners to hold such competition where the Minister so directs, on the one hand, and that the existing practice is, of course, that the Civil Service Commissioners do it without a mandatory statute and that, on the other hand, the effect of the Deputy's amendment would be such that the competitions that are visualised in the other sections would be without the saver that is there already—"they shall not be held without the consent of the Minister for Finance". Clearly, the Minister for Finance must consent to the type of competition that is being held, because the Minister for Finance must be responsible for the control of recruitment.

I can see quite clearly the difficulties which the Deputy had in mind when he was putting down his amendment but, in fact, the difficulty usually arises from the essence of the competition. Having regard to the powers that exist in Sections 13 and 14, I do not think that the amendment which the Deputy suggests would add anything to the powers there to deal with the establishment of unestablished civil servants and I would suggest that the amendment, therefore, is unnecessary because of the powers in Sections 13 and 14.

May I ask the Minister is it correct that there have been occasions on which proposals have been made to grant established status to unestablished officers and that the argument has been made that, as a practical proposition, it would not be possible to comply with the requirement that a competition shall be held? That is really what I am trying to get at—that if the Minister as the appropriate authority decides that it is desirable that a particular grade shall be established, subject to the requirements of the provisions of the Act, that that is the effective decision.

All this talk about competitions, in the line of what I have read out in regard to these four female positions, is, to use a word favoured by a member of this House who is now a Minister, a lot of codology because here we have a case where, if four girls are to be appointed to established positions, there will be no change in the work they will do; the only difference is that when they have completed a long period of service the State can recognise that service by giving them a pension. Before they can be given that, they have to sit down and read a book for the benefit of the interviewer, to explain two or three of the words and have also—which is far more important than the oral test—to have three years' service as female stores assistant and their work and conduct must be satisfactory—that is the effective test.

If that is the case, is the only reason why a greater measure of established service cannot be extended to these thousands of State servants merely a question of decision by the Minister? If it is, I do not quarrel with him because it is a much bigger issue. If the Minister or his successor, in their wisdom, decide that they want to establish a grade, have they full and effective powers to see that that is carried out or is it the position that the commissioners can evade their responsibility on the grounds that an effective and satisfactory competitive examination cannot be held, even for the most menial position, which involves nothing but manual labour?

In my submission, a servant of the State performing manual labour has exactly the same claim as one performing clerical work and it is not fair or proper, once the principle of providing superannuation for the servants of the State has been conceded that that should be denied to persons performing manual tasks, however lowly, merely because of a technicality in regard to competitive examinations which were never intended to apply to manual work. The intention was, quite clearly, that they should apply to the clerical grade of the service and nothing else. To apply them now in regard to a doorkeeper, messenger or something like that, or a labourer in the Park, is stretching the thing far beyond the original intention.

If there is a practical difficulty, would the Minister indicate what it is? If my amendment does not solve the difficulty, there is no purpose in passing it. I understand that on many occasions the argument has been made that, even though it may be desirable to grant established service to a particular group, it could not be done because of this problem of competitive examination, even if the Minister wished to do it.

The situation as I understand it is that in the last 32 years, since the 1924 Act, there has been no case in which the Minister for Finance and the Civil Service Commissioners have differed about the holding of a competition. There is ample power in this Bill, in Sections 13 and 14, for an open or for a limited and confined competition to be held if it is considered appropriate. That is the statutory position and that has been operated by the Civil Service Commissioners. In 30 years of practice—and this is re-enactment of practice—there has never been divergence of opinion. That is in so far as the word "request" is used in the Deputy's amendment. The Deputy's amendment, I suggest, in relation to the matters about competition that he has mentioned rather begs the question by using the word in it, just as I have the word already in Sections 13 and 14. It would not make the slightest difference.

The Minister says that in 30 years there has never been a difference between the Minister and the commissioners. Maybe that proves what I am getting at. I do not know. What I am concerned with is to discover, apart from financial reasons, what are the obstacles to providing established service to many thousands of State employees who have a genuine and proper claim to it. I have been informed very definitely that on a number of occasions where this submission has been made the argument has finally resolved down to the fact that it is not possible to provide for the establishment of the particular grade because a suitable and acceptable competitive examination cannot be devised. That may be in the eyes of the commissioners or the eyes of the Minister or jointly. I do not know. Whether it is or not, it is quite clear to me that it is side-stepping the issue in the light of what was originally intended by way of competitive examination and the way it is being applied now in certain cases where it suits the Minister and the commissioners. Nobody can suggest to me that the competition for these four posts in the Post Office is a competitive examination and I give all credit to the commissioners for devising it.

It is undoubtedly true that there have been cases in which competitive examinations could not be devised. The fairest way of putting it is: in the opinion of the commissioners and of the Minister for Finance for the time being, jointly.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 15 agreed to.
Sections 16 to 18, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:—

In paragraph (b), line 4, to delete "22", and "26".

I might perhaps explain to the House that the remaining amendments on the sheet are all cognate to the same problem which arises first under Section 19. So far as this is concerned, we are merely deleting a reference. Deputies will see that under Section 13 of the Bill the appropriate powers are taken to deal with what is commonly known as the public interest clause. When I was considering the Bill since the Second Reading I found that there appeared to be some inadvertent clash between the provisions of Section 19 and the subsequent sections that were written in as a result of Section 19, and the provisions of Section 13 (3) in particular. Section 13 (3) provided that the Government decided that an appointment should be made in the public interest, while Section 19 provided that the commissioners should, so to speak, sit in judgment over the Government. There has been a re-enactment of the existing law through the drafting of it for purposes of condensation and clarity in certain respects have been changed from the original Bill. The practice that has operated up to the present time will continue to operate in exactly the same way but for the purposes of avoiding what appears to be a conflict between Section 19 and Section 13 (3) I think it is better that we would provide that in relation to the public interest appointment, the person concerned would be deemed from the date of the appointment to possess a certificate of qualification, that is to say, the additional sub-section that would be inserted into Section 29 will avoid a certain amount of unnecessary rubber-stamp procedure and rubberstand procedure perhaps that some people might think was not of a very desirable kind.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 19, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 20 and 21 agreed to.
Section 22 deleted.
Sections 23 to 25, inclusive, agreed to.
Section 26 deleted.

I move amendment No. 3:—

In paragraph (b), lines 28 and 29, to delete "22" and "26".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 27, as amended, put and agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:—

In sub-section (1), page 13, line 41, to delete "22".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 5:—

To delete sub-section (5).

Amendment agreed to.
Section 28, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 6:—

Before sub-section (1), to insert the following new sub-section:—

(1) Where—

(a) a person is appointed to an established position, and

(b) the appointment is one to which sub-section (3) of Section 13 applies,

he shall be deemed from the date of such appointment to possess a certificate of qualification in respect of that position, and the Minister of State by whom the appointment is made shall publish in the Iris Oifigiúil a notice of the appointment which shall state that the appointee is a person to whose appointment sub-section (3) of Section 13 applies.

This is the main amendment carrying out the changes I indicated.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 29, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 30 to 35, inclusive, agreed to.
First and Second Schedules and Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Agreed to take remaining stages now.
Bill received for final consideration and passed.