I wish to raise the continued use of non-established industrial grade employment contracts within the OPW. It does not just affect the OPW but I am specifically concerned with reports I have heard about worker morale in the OPW. These contracts continue to be used despite the fact that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has acknowledged that it is an issue. SIPTU has repeatedly raised its concerns at the national joint industrial council for State employees about the use of non-established grades. Skilled guides are being denied access to opportunities and the current contract system limits their access to lifetime personal and financial improvements.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the OPW are fully aware that employees have attended interviews and achieved competitive markings at those interviews but are then denied panel placement purely on the basis of their non-established status. It is not good enough for the Department to hide behind the archaic Civil Service Regulation Act 1956 because it is within the gift of the Minister as a legislator to fix the legal basis and is also within the Department's gift to engage constructively with the trade unions and workers they represent to get this resolved. SIPTU has requested that the matter be referred to the WRC. My understanding is that the Department requested a two-month delay to that process in May 2021 yet it continued to advertise and recruit more guides on non-established contracts as recently as September 2021.
The inability to access opportunities and the failure of the OPW to provide upskilling while simultaneously refusing to remunerate those who choose to upskill themselves are having a significant impact on the morale of those working in the OPW. One employee with whom I spoke told me of the hostile environment in which they currently work while another spoke of how, despite their contract stating that their place of work was in one site, they are now being instructed to make a daily 80-km round trip to another site with no financial compensation - something we all understand would be very difficult but which is simply impossible now given the current cost of living crisis.
The failure to properly recognise the skills of these workers and to offer lifelong progression in their careers is also leading to employee attrition. Perhaps this is the aim because according to other reports coming out of the OPW, senior OPW figures have told guides that they would love to replace them with machines. Perhaps this is because machines would then free up even more money to carry out some of the vanity projects that have been undertaken, including ones that have flouted laws such as those requiring a legally mandated bat disturbance licence at Emo Court.
Why is the OPW continuing to advertise and hire people under non-established employee contracts despite the Department acknowledging that there are issues with these contracts? Why are guides being relocated against their wishes to sites more than 40 km from their contracted place of work and why are successful interviewees being prevented from taking up posts in other public service jobs?