Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Questions (8)

Robert Troy

Question:

8. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of agency and contract staff currently employed under the aegis of his Department; the mechanism in place for monitoring and managing the associated costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10409/13]

View answer

Oral answers (12 contributions) (Question to Public)

In respect of my own Department, there are currently 42 contract staff employed. Each business case is carefully examined and the Department complies with the guidance on starting pay in all matters to ensure that costs are kept to a minimum. There are no agency staff directly employed in my Department.

The information with regard to the Office of Public Works is as follows:

Number of agency staff

Number of contract staff

Established personnel

2

8

State industrial personnel

1

0

Total

3

8

Excluded from the above figures are the seasonal guides and drainage maintenance workers who are employed on a seasonal basis.

With regard to the Armagh-based special EU programmes body, SEUPB, which co-ordinates the PEACE programme and the North-South INTERREG programme, the following is the position:

Year

Number of agency staff

Cost

2013 (to date)

3.5 (full-time equivalent)

20,000

The table shows the number of agency staff currently employed in the SEUPB. The approximate cost to the Irish Exchequer is €5,000, representing 25% of the above total. The cost is paid equally by this State and the UK, with the balance paid by the European Union.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The majority of costs relating to agency staff used by the SEUPB are funded through the technical assistance programme. The remainder of these costs are jointly funded via the Department of Finance and Personnel in Northern Ireland and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in Ireland.

I thank the Minister for providing that information. The total number of staff, between the Department and the agencies, is 56. The Minister has stated he is only accountable for his own line Department when replying to parliamentary questions. However, we regard him as the Minister with responsibility for the public service.

I have a question about the new draft public service agreement. Extra working hours are being required from staff.

Is the Minister in a position to illustrate whether these extra hours worked will ameliorate the need to hire contract or agency staff? If existing staff work additional hours, by definition, there should not be as much work to be done by outsiders. Is the Minister in a position to provide figures in this regard?

As I informed Deputy Mick Wallace, if we are to maximise the number of hours, we must place a value on it. In embarking on the negotiations I was concerned that we would drill down to workplace level in order that the availability of extra hours would represent a real cost reduction in dealing with the contracting in of agency staff, bringing an end to unnecessary overtime or keeping people on rosters when there was no need to do so and paying them at premium rates. We have certainly done a huge amount of work on that matter. It will come as no great surprise to the Deputy to discover that the largest savings will be made in the HSE, which is a 24-7, 365 days a year operation. There are good indicative figures and when the talks conclude and, please God, workers vote for the agreement, I will be able to provide them for the Deputy.

On the draft public service agreement and the clarifications that will be required in the weeks before workers vote, will the Minister comment further on the pay equalisation issue as it relates to nurses? It appears the Government is already dealing with the latter in respect of teachers. Everyone accepts that the largest number of agency workers in the public service is to be found among nurses. If the Government were to put in place a proper rate of starting pay, it could fill the 1,000 nursing places which have been offered but which have not been filled as a result of the relevant 20% pay cut. If 1,000 additional staff were taken on at a proper rate of pay, this would substantially reduce the bill for agency nurses.

The teachers were very effectively represented at the talks. Their unions negotiated very well on their behalf. SIPTU, one of the unions representing nurses, tabled very good proposals which we are examining to see if we can address them in the context of the new agreement.

Is it possible for public servants to retire, collect their full pensions and then return to perform their previous job as agency workers? The Minister stated teachers had been well represented at the talks. I know many teachers who would disagree with him.

I am sure the Deputy's knowledge of teachers is extensive and that he probably represents more of them than the officially elected representatives of their unions. However, I have my doubts about that.

We will see how they vote.

Those who are elected to represent teachers should be allowed to do so. None of us should purport to speak authoritatively for people in a casual way and state we know many of them.

One of the issues which has given rise to most annoyance among people is that of teachers retiring and then returning to work as substitutes. The Minister for Education and Skills is very keen that this should be avoided. Sometimes there are exigencies which come into play such as the fact that a former teacher lives close to a school where someone is out sick. This is a matter we must address.

Is it possible to retire, take one's full pension and then return to one's former Department as an agency employee?

Deputy Mick Wallace is specifically referring to those who return to their former places of employment via the agency route.

I do not know the answer to the Deputy's question. When an agency is contracted to provide staff, I do not know whether it is possible to identify the individual workers involved and-or whether it is legal to state a certain person cannot fill a particular position. In general terms, there is a disallowance in respect of persons who retire to formally return to the Department in which they were formerly employed. I do not know how it would be possible to deal with agency workers on a structured basis.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.