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Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 4 July 2012

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Questions (4)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

3Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of the over 9,000 persons from the public service who have retired over the past six months with high tax-free lump sum payments in many cases and substantial pensions that have been re-hired on contract; if these persons are now being paid on the double by the State, that is, their pension and the salary they are receiving under the new contracts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32813/12]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Minister for Public)

As stated in my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 273 of 19 June last, the general policy with regard to the re-engagement of retired public servants is that staff should not be retained beyond retirement age and that any re-engagement should be kept as limited as possible and should be for a restricted period. Returns from across the public service indicate that approximately 7,900 public servants retired during the first three months of this year. The bulk of these retirements occurred prior to the end of the grace period on 29 February.

In any large organisation situations can arise in which short-term specialist input is required in order to complete a particular task. In many instances the most appropriate and cost-effective way of solving a short-term problem is to bring in someone who has worked in the area, who understands the background and who can do the work immediately.

Returns received by my Department indicate that since the beginning of the year - this is the important point - of the 8,000 who departed the public service, some 474 have been rehired. A total of 319 of these were teachers who were brought back to complete their work with students in examination classes and who are now no longer engaged. This means that just 155 public servants of the 8,000 who retired were re-engaged across all sectors. I understand that more detailed information will be supplied by individual Ministers in respect of their areas of remit.

The Deputy will also be aware that in accordance with the Pensions (Abatement) Act 1965, when an officer who goes on pension is retained in the Civil Service or re-employed within the service in a non-established capacity, his or her pension is, where necessary, abated - that is, reduced. Such pensioners may never earn more than they would have received if they had continued working. Where a person is re-engaged on a fee-paying basis, the abatement is applied to the fee itself. While this Act does not apply to the wider public service, it has been the norm that similar conditions apply there. Furthermore, I understand that retired civil and public servants are normally only re-engaged by their former, or other, Departments for very short periods, in the main, and for specific functions in respect of which their particular expertise is required. No civil servant who has retired from my Department during the past six months has been taken back onto the payroll.

I do not want to bestow any negative publicity on public servants, regardless of what they earn. However, this is an important and pertinent question. It was tabled by my colleague, Deputy Tom Fleming, who, due to a family bereavement, cannot be present. The Minister indicated that 319 of the public servants who were rehired are teachers. I accept there was a need to rehire these individuals this year but for far too long retired teachers have been brought back to work. This is happening everywhere and young people who have just qualified as teachers cannot obtain employment. This has been the case for far too long. The schools have it down to a fine art and a system has been worked out whereby those who return to work - both teachers and principals - only work a certain number of hours. That is just not good enough.

The Minister stated that the 319 teachers to whom he referred are no longer engaged, and that this means only 155 public servants have been re-engaged across all sectors. I am not questioning his ability - I have great time for the Minister - but I do not know whether the information with which he has been provided is accurate. Is 155 the actual figure? It is easy for staff to return to Departments in which they previously worked. I acknowledge that none have returned to the Minister's Department. Perhaps that is because he is the individual responsible for the pruning.

What did the Minister mean when, in reference to the Pensions (Abatement) Act 1965, he stated that someone who goes on pension and is then retained in or re-employed by the Civil Service cannot be paid any more than the amount of which they were in receipt when they left the service in the first instance? I thank the Minister for his reply but I am of the view that further teasing out is required.

The Deputy is making two different points. I strongly agree with him in respect of one of these. The general principle of rehiring those who have retired on pensions should not be - and is not - supported. Exceptional cases will arise, however. Deputy Mattie McGrath will recall the great concerns that arose in the House prior to the end of the grace period and the fact that Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, was obliged to reassure people that the studies of those in examination classes would not be disrupted as a result of teachers availing of the early retirement scheme. An allowance was made in this regard and this explains why the services of the 319 teachers to whom I refer were retained. I do not believe anyone would object to what was done in this instance.

I have asked other Ministers to engage in a vigorous examination with regard to the rehiring of staff. The Minister for Education and Skills and I agree strongly in respect of the Deputy's other point. We may be obliged to take legislative action in respect of people who retire on full pensions and who are then asked to return in order to provide cover when someone goes on maternity leave or whatever. In my judgment, this practice is not acceptable. The Minister for Education and Skills will take steps to deal with this matter. I assure the Deputy that the figures provided are those which are available to me.

What is the position with regard to the pay of those who are on pensions and who are rehired?

If a person retires on a pension - normally this amounts to half-pay - and if he or she is rehired to perform a particular function, his or her pay in respect of that function plus his or her pension cannot exceed the level of his or her pre-retirement pay. People's pensions are reduced in order to ensure that pre-retirement pay levels are not breached.

Is that the case even in respect of those on contract?

As far as I am aware, it applies in all circumstances. Where a person is contracted on a fee-paying basis, it is the fee rather than the pension that is reduced.

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