Thursday, 17 October 2019

Questions (9)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire


9. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason for delays in the payment of teachers salaries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42541/19]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Education)

I am taking this question on behalf of my college, Deputy Ó Laoghaire. It is a fairly straightforward question. We are looking for an explanation as to the reason for delays in the payment of teachers' salaries by the Department of Education and Skills. There is also an issue around the payment of increments for special needs assistants. I do not need to explain to the Minister that these people need their wages. They are doing the work and have submitted the documentation. We want an explanation for the delay.

At a broader level, there are no unnecessary delays for the payment of teachers on payrolls operated by my Department.

Some 120,000 payees are paid fortnightly. The process for the payment of an individual teacher is that the managerial authority of a school submits the application form to my Department to enable payment to be set up. The application form must confirm that a teacher is qualified for the appropriate sector and confirm his or her registration details with the Teaching Council. Once a completed application form has been received, the payment is processed as soon as possible. Normally, payroll closing dates are ten days before the payment date.

Where an application form is not complete or where there are queries about some aspect of the application, the forms will be returned to the schools, which can result in a delay to payment being set up for a teacher. Where a teacher's registration is not active with the Teaching Council, payment cannot be made for the period he or she is unregistered. Where a teacher works on a casual or non-casual basis, school authorities enter details of the employee and the claim for payment into the online claims system, which will transfer to the Department’s payroll, and the employee will be paid according to the payroll schedules.

Schools authorities have details of payroll closing dates. Payments cannot be processed until they are signed off by the school authorities. If the deadline for payrolls is missed, payments will not be made until the following payroll date. If the Deputy conveys to me individual examples of problems in the system, I will be happy to follow up on them.

There are examples. My colleague, Deputy Ó Laoghaire, was contacted by a teacher in his third consecutive year working at a school. He submitted all the required documentation but it was returned to him in June. The man has three children and had to get a loan to pay his rent. He has done the work and submitted the documentation. There are instances where the teacher has done everything he or she was supposed to do but the delay appears to happen at the Department. It is not acceptable to say there is not a delay or that if there is one, it might be the individual's fault. I have outlined one individual who contacted us and we have been contacted by others. It is not acceptable for a young man with three children to have to apply for a loan to pay rent, given that he turns up for work. It is the second time the problem has happened to him.

The fault, as we understand it, lies with the Department in cases where the people concerned have submitted all the relevant documentation and where the school has done its part.

There was a big issue with the payroll at the beginning of the year because the system changed on 1 January. It was a live issue and my officials worked around the clock, including on weekends, to ensure they got it right. If issues remain, I will be more than happy to follow up on the individual submission Deputy Ó Laoghaire received.

What is the Minister's opinion on the payroll division? Does he believe that it is adequately resourced and that there are enough personnel to do the job it is supposed to do? We will convey the details of the cases we have received to the Minister but if they are resolved, will the Minister state it will not recur in the future? Our understanding is that such cases have happened. I appreciate there was a change in the system but the Minister must understand that changes can result in negative impacts for people on the front line, doing the work and delivering the services. Is the Department sufficiently resourced to ensure he can give a commitment it will not happen again?

Yes, I can. With my officials, I have dealt with the issue at first hand. That 120,000 payees are paid fortnightly, including current workers and those on pensions, is a phenomenal exercise and it requires adequate resources, which I am satisfied we have. Nevertheless, I am conscious my Department is responsible for the largest payroll. Of the €11.1 billion budget I have, a total of 80% goes on pay and pensions. It requires an enormous-----

It is a labour-intensive sector.

It certainly is but the people who work in the area are dedicated and able. When there was a transition to the new system on 1 January, there were outstanding issues for temporary teachers, as well as for retired teachers who worked as substitute teachers. We resolved the vast majority of issues but if any remain, I will be happy to follow up on them.