I reiterate my disappointment at the decision of the executive committee of the ICTU not to accept the LRC proposals. However, it is still worth addressing some of the misconceptions that arose in respect of the proposals on work-life balance arrangements in the public service and I thank the Deputy for tabling this question.
Work-life balance arrangements in the public service are among the best available options provided by Irish employers, particularly when considered in tandem with annual leave and other provisions. Flexible working arrangements, including flexible starting and finishing times, generous leave entitlements, the capacity to take career breaks and so on, are available across the public service and we are proud of that. Had the LRC's proposals been accepted and implemented, this would have continued to be the case.
The most popular and widely availed of work sharing arrangements would not have been affected by the proposals. Flexi-time would still have been available with most employees able to use additional hours worked in one period to facilitate leave in the next. The proposals would have reduced flexi-leave from a potential 19.5 days flexi-leave a year to 13. This would still have been a generous provision by any comparison.
In recognition of the valuable contribution made by those with caring responsibilities to our society, those in receipt of carer’s allowance were not being asked to increase their hours above the 15 hour a week limit for payment of their allowance. Furthermore, in support of our commitment to achieving the public service target of a 3% employment rate for those with disabilities, such employees who had reached a reasonable accommodation with their employer to work less than 50% of full-time hours would have been able to continue to avail of these arrangements for as long as they were required.
Some of the LRC proposals in respect of flexi-time and work sharing simply reiterated management prerogatives that are currently in place in line with previously agreed arrangements. The LRC proposals to revise flexi-time and work sharing were timely in the context of falling numbers and changing demands for public services. The flexibility facilitated by these arrangements is valuable to both staff and management but they must support the business of the organisation and the provision of services to the public, which is the core objective. The proposals sought to streamline existing arrangements in order that a satisfactory balance could be struck between the delivery of the business needs of the employer – in this case the consistent delivery of high level public services to the people of Ireland – and the need for working parents and carers to have flexibility to meet their personal commitments.
In light of this, I do not believe that the proposals would have acted as a push factor for those with caring responsibilities to leave the public sector.