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.