Thursday, 14 November 2019

Ceisteanna (12)

Bríd Smith


12. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his position on the pay of senior civil servants and the proposed review of same by the Public Service Pay Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46801/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (11 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Public)

The Public Service Pay Commission recently found it appropriate to conduct a review of the remuneration of senior civil servant posts. It indicated it has difficulty attracting candidates for certain high-level posts due to constraints of pay of up to €200,000 per year. Does the Minister support the review and raising the pay levels of the most senior civil servants?

The pay of senior civil and public servants continues to be framed by the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation. As the Deputy will be aware, the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act 2017 provides a statutory roadmap for the continued controlled unwinding of the FEMPI legislation as it applies to all public servants, including those in senior positions. FEMPI reductions will be unwound for those on incomes up to €70,000 by October 2020. Sections 19 and 20 of the Act provide the statutory basis for unwinding remaining FEMPI reductions on a phased basis to July 2022.

The Deputy also asked about the recommendations of the Public Service Pay Commission. It was asked to examine the extent of our difficulties recruiting and retaining staff in the public service. In its final report, it included findings in respect of senior executive recruitment or retention issues. It noted as a matter of fact that the pay reductions introduced during the fiscal crisis were progressively structured, with greater reductions at more senior levels. The commission also noted that the process of unwinding pay reductions began with low-income workers.

On the question of future pay determination, the commission stated it would consider it appropriate, should it be decided to conduct a review of remuneration of senior level posts, that a body such as the review body on higher remuneration in the public sector be reconstituted, given the complexity and diversity of the posts. The Government has noted the commission's findings, which will be the subject of further consideration before a decision is made.

It is astonishing to say the FEMPI legislation had a significantly greater impact on senior civil servants. If 10% is taken from somebody earning €200,000, €20,000 will be taken, but if the same percentage is taken from somebody earning €40,000, that person will have much less in his or her pocket. It was an extraordinary statement. I did not ask the Minister about FEMPI but I acknowledge that some of the cuts have been reversed, slowly and painfully, but other elements have been kept intact, including poorer pensions, greater pension contributions for new workers and some continued pay apartheid. The same commission produced reports on nurses' pay and on the pay of the Defence Forces in the past 12 months and basically said, "There is not a problem here, there is nothing to see, move on", which is why there has been a major problem with Defence Forces pay and a major strike by the nursing unions. To what extent is the Minister in touch with reality, given what he has stated?

I can assure the Deputy that I am every bit as in touch with reality as she is. She stated the two previous reports from the Public Service Pay Commission found there was no issue-----

I did not mention two reports.

The Deputy did say that. She referred to the two previous reports.

I said the commission had produced reports on nurses and the Defence Forces.

The Minister and the Deputy are only wasting their own time.

The Deputy is discussing semantics. She referred to the reports on the Defence Forces and nursing, which were the two reports prior to the one we are discussing. That is a matter of fact.

It is also a matter of fact that the commission did not state there was no difficulty. Even a cursory reading of either of the reports, which the Deputy may not have taken the time to do, shows that the commission indicated there were some issues. It went on to make proposals to address issues it had acknowledged. To suggest it stated there was no issue is wrong because, otherwise, it would not have made the proposals it did.

There are some parts of our economy in which people are well paid. As employers, we must compete against the private sector, which progressively pays people at the top more.

I find it astonishing that the Minister can say with a straight face that retaining top civil servants because their skills are so precious and finite means they have to be rewarded for their greater intellectual and progressive powers. Is the evidence in the negotiation of the contract around the national children's hospital, the tender for broadband or the housing or trolley crises? Where is the evidence that our top civil servants are so bright that they need to be paid more than €200,000 a year?

The Minister seems to agree with that but on the other hand he refuses to give pensions to retired CE supervisors, a labour court recommendation he consistently denies. He sanctioned a pay rise for semi-State pensioners who have been outside the gates and have not had a pension rise for ten years, yet the pension levy continues to be deducted from their meagre pensions. How does the Minister square that circle? Many of our services which are administered by top civil servants in receipt of €200,000 a year are in a mess, but the Minister refuses to acknowledge a labour court recommendation for retired CE supervisors and continues to penalise public sector pensioners.

I am also the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform who will ensure that by the time we get to next October all of those in receipt of an income at or below €70,000, many of whom have had their incomes restored to some extent, a fact which the Deputy has little interest in hearing or acknowledging, will see their incomes restored to what they were in the pre-crisis period. That is equally my track record in responding to the needs of low and middle income workers in our society who deserve the kind of wages that are necessary to reward and recognise the contribution they have made to our public services and country.

When the Deputy talks about the intelligence of people who are at the top, it is clear that she is in some way doubting their capacity. Along with the difficulties she touched on, I also want to acknowledge the contribution made by civil servants, including senior civil servants, to the recovery in our economy, the efforts we have had to make to respond to the challenge of Brexit and in helping and supporting successive Governments to respond to complex and demanding challenges. More needs to be done and we still face many challenges. I am as aware of those as the Deputy is, but there are also areas in which we have made progress.

Question No. 13 replied to with Written Answers.