Thursday, 7 February 2019

Ceisteanna (6)

Barry Cowen

Ceist:

6. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when the Public Service Pay Commission will publish its reports on recruitment and retention issues in the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5763/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (20 contributions) (Ceist ar Public)

While we are on the subject of the Public Service Pay Commission, notwithstanding the difference of opinion we have as to the credibility of the entirety of the recommendations, I seek an update on its similar responsibility with regard to recruitment and retention issues within the Defence Forces.

The Deputy will be aware that the Public Service Pay Commission was established by the Government in 2016 and tasked with examining pay levels across the public service. The commission made its first report to the Government in May 2017; we are debating that report today.

In respect of the Defence Forces, in its first report the pay commission noted that the force was experiencing a significant exit of trained and experienced personnel in areas such as engineering, ICT, pilots, avionic technicians and air traffic controllers, as well as encountering challenges in attracting direct entry personnel in specialist streams, including doctors, marine engineers and engineers.

In the context of these observations the commission, in its first report, suggested that:

consideration [should] be given to commissioning a more comprehensive examination of underlying difficulties in recruitment and retention in those sectors and employment streams where difficulties are [clearly] evident.

As the Deputy will be aware, the first module was published by the commission in August 2018. The commission is currently examining recruitment and retention issues in the Defence Forces and certain other health grades and has not yet indicated a timeline for completion of this important module.

I defer to Deputy Jack Chambers.

A very unusual thing happened in autumn of 2018. The Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, informed the Dáil that the joint submission had been sent to the Public Service Pay Commission, which was between military management and the Department of Defence. We found out, in January of this year, that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform had a central role in the aftermath of the apparent submission.

What did the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform do around the changes made between military management and the Department of Defence? Why did it take three months for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to intervene in that process? In response to a parliamentary question the Minister said there was a collaborative basis between the management side parties to provide the commission with accurate and complete information. Is he saying there was inaccurate or incomplete information from military management and the Department of Defence? It appears that the Department is delaying on the issue of recruitment and retention and unusually intervening in a joint submission made by the civil and military sides in the Department of Defence. The Minister needs to clarify his Department's role in the matter. If he is playing a role in diluting the serious issues surrounding pay and conditions in order that he can uphold his top line on public pay, people working in the military will not place much hope in the report that will come from the Public Service Pay Commission. The Minister needs to clarify the matter.

The role my Department plays in these matters is entirely consistent with the one I have outlined for Deputy Shortall. My Department has responsibility for overseeing total pay policy and acting on behalf of the State as employer. My Department plays a role in making submissions to the commission that then looks at pay.

Deputy Jack Chambers should join together the two strands of the debate we are having today. I know that he will because I know how heavily engaged he is in this issue. If we get to the point where the Oireachtas believes the Public Service Pay Commission is not the appropriate way and does not accept the recommendations in respect of the health service, it will have profound consequences in how we deal with issues related to the Defence Forces.

I appreciate the fact that the Deputy wants to see the case advanced. However, if we do not have a collective agreement to deal with these matters, we will end up with sector after sector looking to leap ahead of other parts of the civil and public service. If we end up in that place, I am really concerned that the people who will ultimately suffer from the absence of a collective agreement are those on low and middle incomes. It is for that reason I believe the pay commission is a good tool to deal with these issues. The views the Oireachtas may offer on the work of the commission on health and the views on its recommendation will have a major effect on how the issues the Deputy is raising related to the Defence Forces can be resolved.

The commission is absolutely a tool to resolve pay complaints and difficulties. The issue I have is that I want to know what the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform did in contaminating the joint submission made by military management and the Department of Defence. The Minister delayed the process for three months by interrupting the joint submission. I want him to clarify the Department’s role before the submission was made to the pay commission. The issue I have is whether the Department, in effect, muzzled the Department of Defence and military management. If the Minister diluted some of the recommendations and removed some of the serious issues for members of the Defence Forces, there is no credibility to the pay commission because it has not received the data or is not aware of the real-life circumstances of people working in the Defence Forces. We need to clarify what the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform did in removing, adding to or diluting the core information sent in the joint submission from the Department of Defence and military management. The Minister has not clarified the matter today. In fact, he is involving himself and trying to filter and remove some of the core recommendations being made by the other parts of civil and military management. He needs to outline his role in that process. Otherwise, there is no credibility to the pay commission because it is not receiving real-time information on members of the Defence Forces.

Despite the Deputy not being clear on my role, the lack of clarity does not stop him from making the charge that we are contaminating or muzzling - to use his language - another part of government.

Did the Minister interfere?

As I said in response to the questions I have dealt with, it is simply our role, as the Department that represents the State as the employer, to ensure there is consistency of approach in how applications are made to the pay commission.

The Minister needs to clarify the matter.

What the Deputy does not acknowledge is that our submission is only one of many. Others will be made by groups that have views on the matter. It will then be up to the pay commission to reach an assessment of the matter.

I will give Deputy Cowen 30 seconds, but that is all he has because time is almost up.

Does the Department adjudicate on or mark the submissions made? Does it amend or alter them?

We will let the Minister answer.

Does the Department amend or correct submissions before it passes them to the commission?

The Deputy has asked the question. Let the Minister answer it.

We are involved in the drafting of submissions, about which I have been perfectly clear.

It is inappropriate interference.

We are involved, whether with the Department of Health, the Department of Defence or any other Department. At the end of the day, it has always been the case that the Department representing the State as the employer has a view on submissions. My colleagues in the Department of Defence and the Department of Health also look to have their views represented in the submission. That is what happened in this case.

Deputy Curran has tabled Question No. 7, but he is unavoidably absent. As Deputy Deering is not in the House, we will move on.

Question No. 7 replied to with Written Answers.