I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:
"1.—Upon the passing of this Act, the Minister shall take such steps (not involving a charge or potential charge on public funds) as appear to him or her to be appropriate to give to persons likely to be affected by the provisions of this Act information regarding the principle terms of this Act.".
In moving this amendment, I ask the Minister of State if the Government will clearly indicate that it will take steps to inform people about the very significant changes that arise in certain employments as a result of this Bill. Effectively, this Bill when it is enacted on 1 April, will create two classes of public servants, namely, those appointed to the public service before that date and those appointed after it. As I stated on Committee Stage, many people are absent from the public service for a variety of reasons, in some cases because they have taken leave of absence.
I drew the Minister's attention to the situation in which people go to work in Africa or a developing country by arrangement and may leave their jobs in local authorities as engineers or in hospitals as nurses or doctors and carry out very valuable work overseas. The Minister set out to reassure me that such situations are covered, some of which I accept. However, I am still concerned that, considering lifestyles nowadays, there are people who are absent from the public service and may be away trekking in the jungles of Borneo as part of being out of the public service for a number of years. They will not hear about this and, as a consequence, will not have a chance to address what may be significant changes for them in the event of this Bill being passed.
Deputy Bruton and I have tabled amendments which seek to protect the interests of people who have already served more than 15 years in the public service. On Committee Stage, I also stated that this Bill has a particular impact on doctors because of the way in which that profession organises its study and qualification arrangements. When doctors who are effectively training to become specialists or consultants are in the later stages of their study, they need to be employed abroad. Very often, in the period before they go abroad, they are employed on a series of contracts, they then go abroad to get further experience and are not able to come back to Ireland until such time as a consultant or near-consultant post is found for them in the public service. Many of these doctors work exclusively in the public service. Much discussion about doctors centres on those consultants who have lucrative employment both in the public service and in private medicine. However, many doctors in the public service work there almost exclusively. The impact of their having left the medical services and returned at a future date to take up further employment, even relatively well-remunerated employment, is that their earlier service in public medicine will not count towards a continuum of service. Their earlier public service will be in one category and their later service in another.
In the next five to seven years we are going to have to compete with a reforming British national health service which is having large sums of money pumped into it by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The British Government has set ambitious targets for the recruitment of medical and nursing personnel from around the world. Meanwhile, we are creating one more element by which we will be less competitive in recruiting these vital people. This will affect doctors and, to a lesser extent, nurses, because nurses tend to have a slightly different employment pattern from doctors.
When the recommendations of the Hanly report were Government policy before the Minister for Defence torpedoed it and the Taoiseach orphaned it at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis, 3,000 new consultant posts were to be created. This was to be one of the major reforms in addressing the issue of junior hospital doctors and their overtime. The Irish Medical Organisation has made a detailed submission on this issue. The secretary of the IMO attended the select committee when Committee Stage of this Bill was being debated and listened intently to the arguments put forward. In private discussion afterwards — and I am sure the Minister of State is aware of this — he said that the consequences of the Bill for future recruitment to the medical services are particularly negative.
The purpose of the amendment is to limit the damage the Bill will do to the recruitment of medical personnel who have gone abroad. Will the Minister undertake an intensive campaign to advise people working abroad and their families in Ireland that these changes are under way and that they have six months from 1 April to address the issues which arise from these changes if they return to the public service in Ireland after 1 April 2004?
This is an example of one arm of the Government, the Department of Finance, fighting against the declared policy of another arm of the Government, the Department of Health and Children. It is difficult to see where the savings will be made. The contracts will be renegotiated to reflect the lesser pension contributions and the fact that new people entering the service will have a shorter pension lifetime and broken service. Once the link is broken, their earlier service will not be as valuable because there will be a definitive break in which the period before 1 April will count for some service but the period after 1 April will be a different kind of service. The implications are contradictory. The Department of Health and Children will face negotiations and go back to the Department of Finance while the Minister for Finance will express his usual bewilderment as to how €9 billion has disappeared into the Department of Health and Children. Administrators will prepare reports on what has happened to the money but the doctors and nurses who work at the coalface will not be in place.
The implications of this measure have not been teased out. The strategic management initiative has been ongoing for almost ten years. The Hanly report stated that we must address the issue of medical recruitment into the public service at consultant or sub-constultant level while this legislation significantly changes the terms and conditions of employment.
The Minister for Finance decided to include the Garda training period in the qualifying period of public service. Gardaí in training are, therefore, included. Why do the same conditions not apply to people undergoing teacher training, medical training, which is especially protracted, or training as psychiatric nurses, which is a dedicated nursing service and will remain so for some time to come? None of these groups is to have its training period included in calculating its employment period.
Like the cut in the widows' pension, this is a mean cut. People have already embarked on periods of training or applied to teacher training colleges. Many more mature students who have experience in business or in computers are turning to the teaching profession. Now that benchmarking has increased teaching salaries, the teaching profession has become attractive once again to people in their twenties who are thinking of an alternative career. This is one of the most progressive developments in the economy. We need good teachers who love to teach and who like to work with students. We need young people coming back into the teaching profession. Nevertheless, the Government says that, if one trains as a teacher at the age of 26 or 27, having worked at other jobs, one's training period will not be included in one's employment record. The same applies to a person who qualifies in a trade and then turns to teaching that trade. The professor of engineering in UCD began his working life as an apprentice mechanic, worked his way to become the head of engineering in Mercedes-Benz and was headhunted by UCD. What are we saying to people who take a less than regular career path and do not qualify and begin working immediately? If such people work in the public service, we are saying that, from now on, if their date of entry into the public service is after 1 April 2004, they will be seriously disadvantaged.
The Bill arises from the pensions review and there is a broad acceptance that pensions must be reformed. However, some of the cuts imposed in this structure are unnecessarily mean and go against quality recruitment into the public service. The public service unions will seek to address this by means of negotiation and the Bill will go back to the Department of Finance. Who is to say what form the Bill will finally take.
In moving this amendment I ask for a proper information programme in partnership with the trade unions involved, especially the teaching, medical unions and psychiatric nursing unions because they are worst affected. The Minister should undertake a proper information campaign so that people who, for one reason or another, have broken their connection or are abroad, or their relatives, will have a chance to hear that from 1 April they have six months to address their situation if they are currently away without clear leave of absence arrangements, that they are breaking their service and that it could have negative consequences. The Minister indicated on Committee Stage an openness to discuss this issue and I hope he will confirm that in his response to this amendment.