Staff Morale in the Public Sector at an all time low – BREEN.

December 15th, 2009 - Pat Breen

Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2009

Tuesday, 15th December 2009.

Deputy Pat Breen T.D.

I welcome the opportunity to speak. Public sector employees and welfare recipients have become the latest victims of the Government’s blame game. There is a saying that a good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit. The kernel of the problem in this country is that we do not have leadership. The Government is bereft of ideas and has no plan. It has no idea how to get us out of the economic crisis and that is why, over recent weeks, spin doctors were diverting attention from the Government to the public service workers and social welfare recipients. They were easy targets.
Before the budget last week, at the eleventh hour, the talks between the public service unions and the Government broke down. We must ask why they broke down. There are rumours of a frosty relationship between the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance. Why did the Government walk away from the offer of the unions? Media reports last weekend suggested there was to be a radical overhaul of the public service. The union members were willing to make a sacrifice and that is the most important point. They were willing to sign up to cuts that would effect a reduction in the public sector wage bill of €1 billion euro.
There is no doubt that the issue of unpaid leave ended the talks and pay cuts are now being imposed universally across the public sector. Unfortunately there is still no commitment to reform. I understand the unions were seeking redeployment of staff across the public sector; the centralisation of functions concerning payroll and human resources; the introduction of an extended working day in the health service covering the period 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and the provision of community-based health and social care services at night and at weekends. All these changes had been agreed to.
The moratorium on employment and the failure to invest in the public service has already affected services. In my area, with which Deputy O’Donnell will be familiar, the HSE’s idea to centralise the emergency and acute surgical services of the hospitals in Ennis and Nenagh is having a huge effect on the accident and emergency services in Limerick Regional Hospital. The nurses at the hospital have balloted on industrial action on foot of the failure of the HSE and the Minister for Health and Children to live up to their commitments and invest in the centralisation of the services.
The diversity of operations in the public service is quite complex and a uniform approach will never work. I have spoken to many public servants in my constituency recently. They are extremely angry over the fact that the first €30,000 of their salaries is to be cut by 5%. One girl to whom I spoke, who is earning approximately €30,000, said she has borne her fair share of the burden by paying the pension and income levies. She felt she had accepted these cuts in the national interest and said that, although she did not create the problem, she was paying a very high price.
The reality is that public sector workers experience their share of problems. Many bought houses at inflated prices. There is a perception that many in the public service are very well off but this is not the case, as we know. Ultimately they are in a similar position to many of their counterparts in the private sector.
Where are we going from here? There is no way at this stage the Government will be able to negotiate a radical package to reform the public sector. The curtailment of services and the reduction of budgets, be it in respect of health or education, are putting severe pressure on the various sectors and they are unable to cope.
Staff morale is at an all-time low and we are facing a long period of uncertainty. Strikes are on the cards. Nobody wants to go down this road but it is not easy to see an alternative. The Government is only interested in the blame game. As Deputy O’Donnell said, we hope that, on Committee Stage, the Government will listen to the Opposition and put reform on the cards again to get the country back on its feet.