Speaking today on the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2015, Senator Gerard CraughwellI began by congratulating Minister Howlin and the staff of his Department who successfully negotiated the Lansdowne Road agreement giving benefit to some low paid cohorts in the Public Sector and the unions who signed up to it. However in the context of the present FEMPI Bill Senator Craughwell asked Minister Howlin TD if the legislation had been brought before the Seanad to have it rubberstamped by a whipped Seanad or to have it fairly examined and amended.
According to Senator Craughwell there were a number of significant areas to be addressed before the Bill was passed including Education, An Garda Siochana, Pay increases for Senior Government Personnel, Public Sector Pensions and Industrial Relations.
Referring to Minister’s Howlin’s Budget Speech 2015 in which he said “the days of spending cuts are behind us” Senator Craughwell questioned the need for a FEMPI Bill at all and asked the Minster “Is the emergency over or not?”
He reminded the Minister that the pain suffered by public servants since the first FEMPI Act in 2009 went far beyond a reduction in pay. He said that through Croke Park, Haddington Road and Lansdown Road Agreements, Public Servants had delivered massive increases in productivity but that the Government had failed to deliver on their side of the bargain as promised. He now feared that the 2015 legislation was using coercive powers to extend the additional working hours for teachers for a further three years.
Taking An Garda Síochána as an example, Senator Craughwell said that the force was promised a review under an appendix to the Lansdown Road Agreement covering Structural, Human Resources/IR issues together with Remuneration. As far as he was aware, only one meeting had taken place on IR/Remuneration issues and he said that today the AGSI who represented higher ranks of An Garda Siochana had joined the GRA in refusing to continue the additional free hours of duty demanded under the Lansdown Road Agreement.
With respect to Education, Senator Craughwell went on to express his deep concern that the FEMPI Act 2015 will do nothing to ease the lives of those teachers, mostly under 35, in part-time or temporary posts. He drew the Minister’s attention to the fact that Lecturers in Institutes of Technology continue to deliver between 8 to 10 classroom hours more than their international peers. He said that it was important to note that Teachers & Lecturers have not sought a cent in pay but rather the removal of the additional hours foisted on them by Croke Park and the Haddington Road Agreement.
Given that the number of lecturers has been reduced by 10%, student numbers are up by 20% and funding cut by 32%, Senator Craughwell asked how long an under resourced system would continue to produce the quality of graduate that the likes of Apple, Google and Facebook require.
While Senator Craughwell welcomed sections of the Bill that begin the process of pay restoration for public servants he did not accept the need for a new, threatening, FEMPI Bill to underpin this. He strongly objected to massive pay rises for senior Government personnel stating that An Taoiseach stands to gain €15,650, the Tánaiste €14,096, Ministers €12,735, Ministers of State €9,403 and TD’s €6,414. He compared these pay rises to a public servant on €24,000 who can expect a miserly €2,600 increase.
Senator Craughwell concluded his contribution by pointing out a further anomaly in the area of pensions and reiterated that public service pensioners, many of whom get small sums are not looking for more of taxpayer’s money, they are only seeking the return of their own money and that if the emergency was over there is no longer any justification for a continued interference by Government in pensions. He said that pensions are a property right protected by the constitution and should not be touched.
On the final issue of Industrial Relations Senator Craughwell concluded by saying that “while agreement has been reached with a number of the Unions and overall that is a good thing there are still significant numbers outside the LRA who have real issues which must be addressed urgently and if they are not then far from industrial peace I see trouble ahead”. He therefore asked the Minister to address the legitimate concerns of those unions feel that could not sign up to the LRA deal as a matter of urgency