The following is written by Peter Connell, formerly of Trinity College, Dublin and SIPTU member:
The Executive Summary of the Croke Park 2 document states that while a
‘significant level of reform…has already taken place…further measures are required to underpin the delivery of a more integrated, efficient and effective public service’.
Any fair reading of the document, however, will reveal that its purpose is to cut, not reform. Cut pay, cut flexible working, cut overtime payments, cut staff numbers, cut payment for unsociable working hours. Some things it will increase rather than cut – increased working hours and increased staff flexibility being the most obvious.
An unintended cut arising from this agreement and the way in which it was negotiated will be to staff morale. For public sector workers on the ground the gap between the rhetoric of government ministers lauding the public service and touting reform, on the one hand, and the spirit of the bookkeeper that informs Croke Park 2, on the other, is hard to take.
For a start the trade union negotiators representing over 250,000 workers were treated with a level of contempt. A reasonable request by the unions to be given details of how the management side’s agenda would deliver £1 billion in net savings was simply ignored. If pay cuts are to be accepted and extra hours worked for free it seems we have to believe what we are told and just swallow the medicine. Real negotiations involve assessing the merits of what’s being proposed, of being able to table counter-proposals. Not just tinkering at the edges of the management agenda which, bizarrely, is reproduced as part of the introduction to the document. The trade union agenda, however, does not seem to merit inclusion.
Staff morale is also undermined by the exclusive focus on measuring and costing. Of course all organisations employing staff need to set down hours of working, arrangements for overtime etc. But many staff working in health and education, for example, may reflect on just how many hours a week they already contribute to their employer for free. Costing and measuring is, after all, a two-way street. What does the Croke Park document have to say:
- To the nurse who turns up for her night shift twenty minutes early and leaves half an hour after her shift officially ends so that she can conduct a proper handover to day staff?
- Or to the teacher organising the school debating team, the athletics or football team, the school choir, helping students with their Young Scientists projects or all the other activities that are an essential part of what constitutes an education?
- Or to the IT worker in a government department or university who works through the evening (no overtime paid) to ensure that data is recovered in time for the following day?
What the Croke Park document says is – we’re assuming you’ll continuing doing all these things (because the whole set-up would collapse without your good will) but you’re now going to work an additional 2-3 hours a week for free because the national finances demand it.
Over the next few weeks tens of thousands of public servants will be considering their options. And one option will be to say – enough is enough.