I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 and 16 together.
I reiterate some of the points I have already made in response to Deputy Wallace’s priority question on a similar topic today.
As I have already said, following Congress’s decision not to accept the Labour Relations Commission’s (LRC) proposals, the Government is reflecting on the outcome of the ballot and the manner in which the required savings can be achieved this year. However, it is still worth clarifying some of the issues which were raised recently, including those made following the publication of the Equality Audit Report which was commissioned by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).
Flexible working arrangements, including flexible starting and finishing times, generous leave entitlements, the capacity to take career breaks and avail of the shorter working year scheme and so on, are available across the public service. Had the LRC’s proposals been accepted this would have continued to be the case.
When you look at the range of work-life balance arrangements that is available to public servants it is clear that they are among the best available options provided by Irish employers, particularly when considered in tandem with annual leave and other provisions.
If the unions had accepted the LRC’s proposals the most popular and widely availed of worksharing arrangements would not have been affected. Those in receipt of Carer’s Allowance were exempt from the worksharing proposals and were not being asked to increase their hours above the 15 hour a week limit for payment of their allowance. Employees with disabilities who had reached a reasonable accommodation with their employer to work less than 50% of the full time hours were also exempt from these proposals.
Flexi-time would still have been available which facilitates employees in varying their starting and finishing times and the length and timing of their lunch breaks. In addition, most employees would have been able to use additional hours worked to avail of, potentially, an additional 13 days’ leave a year.
Some of the LRC proposals in respect of flexi-time and worksharing simply reiterated management prerogatives that are currently in place in line with previously agreed arrangements.
The Equality Audit makes reference to the proposals in respect of longer working hours and their potential impact on sections of the public service. In implementing the arrangements management would have facilitated staff members who wished to opt to remain on their current hours with the appropriate pro-rata pay reduction for a period of time. This would have given these individuals an opportunity to make necessary arrangements to balance their responsibilities at work and at home. They would then have moved to one of the standard worksharing patterns after a set period of time.
An appropriate level of staff must be available during the span of the working day to meet the business needs of the organisation and to provide services to the public. In the context of falling numbers and changing demands for public services, flexitime and work sharing should better reflect the current needs of public service organisations. The operation of these arrangements must support the business of the organisation and the provision of services to the public. The proposed changes were an attempt to balance the requirements of the business while enabling staff to balance work and personal life requirements.