Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mandatory Unpaid Leave

I think I give up at this stage. The government committed to permanently reduce costs on public sector pay by €1.3B in 2010 and the trade unions committed to not letting the wages of their members be reduced. That seems like a fairly solid impasse to me, at which point some leadership could have been shown by government by holding its ground and letting the unions call for strikes and then wait to see who blinked first. Each day of striking was saving around €50M according to reports so it wouldn't take long to come to a resolution.

Instead the partnership fiasco seems to be coming back from the dead with the introduction of the unpaid leave scheme that is being touted at the moment. While the details are sketchy, it seems as though all public sector workers will have to take 12 days of unpaid leave next year.

The first question to ask is how much of a percentage pay cut is that equivalent to. Is it 12 days out of 365 (about 3.3%) or is it 12 days out of 365-104-24-9 = 228 (about 5.3%)? Depending on the specific contract, public servants are employed on an annual basis or on an hourly rate. In the former case it is likely that workers will loose 3.3% of pay, the latter getting stuck with 5.3% and of course it is the lowest paid who tend to be on the hourly rates. Score one for the fat cats over the cleaners and security staff.

Secondly, you have to ask will there be an impact on service given? In my section there is always a backlog after returning from holidays so I would think there will be some impact. If it is the case that this leave will not affect service in some areas then you have to ask why isn't the fat cut from the system first. Also in frontline services such as nursing temporary staff will end up being hired as cover which will end up costing more to the tax payer in the long term.

Thirdly, there are rumours already doing the rounds that while the cost will be cut in 2010, the leave will be spread over 2011-2013 to reduce impact. That to me sounds very much like this is a once off event that will be reversed in the 2011 budget. So much for the permanent reduction in costs. And if the scheme is continued we'll just end up with more and more deferred days so that by 2020 or so, most staff in the public service will have a serious backlog of days off that they have already had taken from their pay.

Finally, who gave the unions the mandate to agree to such a hairbrained scheme? I certainly don't remember it being on the table before. If the deal is announced in the budget next week is that it or do the union's have to have another ballot? I'm sorely tempted to bail from SIPTU if this is the sort of carry on they get up to.

This entire process is a sop to the retired and about to retire section of the community. After last year's bad press with the medical cards, the govt will try to do anything to avoid a repeat scenario even if it means dumping even further on the lower paid and junior workers in the public sector. The lump sums and final wages must be protected at all costs and to hell with everyone else.

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