Medical laboratory staff extend their working day

It is clear that the Government’s continued support of the Public Service Agreement is contingent on ongoing delivery of the challenging changes required, but it is worth noting that without the Agreement the possibility of reform is negligible with the real possibility of a gradual descent into industrial unrest, writes Ann Marie Ward.

The Public Service Agreement (also referred to as the Croke Park Agreement) was reached following a set of intensive discussions facilitated by the Labour Relations Commission in March 2010 but was not ratified by the Public Service Committee of the ICTU until 15 June 2010. The Agreement is unique in that it doesn’t promise the delivery of pay increases in return for performance and modernisation of the public sector, instead its aim is to restore the public finances and reduce the current budget deficit.  This is in part to be achieved by reducing the cost of delivering public services by restructuring and reorganising and thus gaining greater efficiency and effectiveness for public expenditure.  One of the key principles of reducing costs is through the reduction in staff (or whole time equivalents) while still maintaining services to the greatest possible extent through the best use of all available resources.

Laboratory

The Agreement promises in return protection for pay, commitments on pension rates for those retiring and no further compulsory redundancies. Paragraph 1.6 of the Agreement confirms ‘that compulsory redundancy will not apply within the Public Service…,’  paragraph 1.15 confirms that ‘that there will be no further reductions in the pay rates of serving public servants for the lifetime of this Agreement.’ These commitments are subject to compliance with the terms of this Agreement.

Following ratification of the Agreement the Government established an Implementation Body, with independent Chair Mr. P.J. Fitzpatrick, at national level to drive forward the process of change and ensure any difficulties, which may be encountered, are resolved in a fair and speedy manner.  In the Health Sector a sectoral implementation body has also been appointed and is chaired by independent Chair Mr. Pat Harvey.

In summary, the Agreement requires the public sector to engage in a significant reform programme to ensure that the Irish Public Service continues its contribution to the return of economic growth and economic prosperity to Ireland by working collaboratively to build an increasingly integrated public service which is leaner and more effective. The Agreement offers an unprecedented platform to facilitate change on a scale and in a fashion that previously has never existed.

Progress or Not?

The Agreement has now been agreed and in place for some nine months so the question is are we making real progress?  Within the health sector there have been some significant milestones achieved, these include notably the recent Management/Administration / Support Staff  Voluntary Exit Schemes where over 2,000 staff left in a matter of weeks and the challenging void created by their absence was handled largely without protest despite the many real difficulties inevitably inherent with the timelines imposed by the scheme.  The Agreement around laboratory modernisation is a very significant and recent development.

Laboratory Modernisation

Significantly agreement was reached with the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA), IMPACT and SIPTU on the introduction of extended working day arrangements for all medical laboratory staff with effect from 1 February 2011.

Essentially this means that staff within laboratories have a liability to be rostered from 8am to 8pm from Monday to Friday where service needs require (same core hours but with a liability to be rostered over a longer working day)

Essentially this means that staff within laboratories have a liability to be rostered from 8am to 8pm from Monday to Friday where service needs require (same core hours but with a liability to be rostered over a longer working day).  In addition, agreement was reached on a new payment structure for out-of-hours emergency work, which replaces all of the previous existing arrangements for out of hours working.  This reorganisation of laboratory services has obvious implications for existing practices and will deliver some €5 million in savings to the health service this year and will result in loss of earnings for many medical scientific staff.  The mechanism for compensating staff for the loss of earnings was the subject of a labour court hearing in February of this year.  The Court in LCR19995 ‘recommends that the compensation for actual loss of earnings arising from the new arrangements be calculated on the basis of 1.5 times the actual loss.  The level of loss should be established in each case by comparing earnings in a full twelve month period in which the new arrangements has been in operation with a corresponding period in which the current system operated. The detailed arrangements in that regard should be agreed between the parties. 

In terms of phasing the Court recommends that a first moiety of 50 per cent of the compensation due should be paid 12 months after the new arrangements become operational.  The remaining 50 per cent of the amount due should be paid six months thereafter.’

This formula for loss of earnings has also been adopted across the wider public service as the mechanism to compensate for loss of earnings in cases other than redeployment (the formula for this was set by the Facilitators of the PSA, Mr. Kieran Mulvey and Mr. Kevin Foley of the LRC).

The changes for staff under this agreement are considerable and it is worth noting the relatively quick timeframe the revised arrangements were agreed by the staff and their representative organisations

The changes for staff under this agreement are considerable and it is worth noting the relatively quick timeframe the revised arrangements were agreed by the staff and their representative organisations.  Implementation of the arrangements are now being progressed and an Implementation Group has been established to oversee implementation of the provisions of the agreement and to verify savings identified.  The Group will ensure that changes are implemented consistently across laboratories.

Finally, it is worth remembering that these changes are being introduced against the challenging backdrop of a staffing moratorium and substantial budget reduction.  It is clear that the Government’s continued support of the Public Service Agreement is contingent on ongoing delivery of the challenging changes required, but it is worth noting that without the Agreement the possibility of reform is negligible with the real possibility of a gradual descent into industrial unrest.

Ann Marie Ward is Senior Employee Relations Executive, HSE Corporate Employee Relations Services.