Sunday, 16 September 2012

Taoiseach tells ministers to get teachers to work 40-hour week

THE Taoiseach Enda Kenny has told government ministers to include an extension of the working day and week in their submissions of "additional proposals" to significantly reduce the public sector pay and pensions bill, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

As a result, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and Health Minister Dr James Reilly are this week expected to bring to Cabinet plans to increase the working week in schools and hospitals to 40 hours.

While the Government remains anxious that industrial peace should be maintained, the Cabinet intends to test the meaning and spirit of the Croke Park deal, as well as the level of resistance to change in the public sector.
Both Mr Quinn and Dr Reilly have recently said that around 70 per cent of their budgets go on payroll. A cabinet source said yesterday: "If we can't cut pay, then we can increase productivity."

The plan to increase, by 10-20 per cent, the productivity of public sector workers in schools and hospitals is expected to lead to an outcry from the workers affected and their unions.
However, it is likely to be broadly welcomed by the public at a time when cuts to frontline services are planned.

In a letter to members of the Cabinet on Friday, the Taoiseach pointed out that an extra €1.7bn in day-to-day savings must be made next year.

He asked ministers to "calculate the maximum possible savings and reforms" which could be achieved under the Croke Park Agreement -- if the deal was "pushed to the limits", according to a well-placed source. Mr Kenny wants a response from his ministers by this Friday.

The Taoiseach and the Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore have stated that the Croke Park Agreement will remain in place until it expires in 2014. But today's disclosure indicates that the Government intends to work the deal in a manner that has not occurred since it was signed in 2010.

The Taoiseach's note to ministers follows a letter from the Minister for Public Sector and Reform Brendan Howlin to the secretaries-general of each government department, seeking increased savings under Croke Park.

However, Mr Howlin's letter was met by a "disappointing response", according to a source familiar with the detail.

The source said: "In effect, the secretaries-general said everything was fine, that everything that could be done was being done, except maybe for one or two minor things."

Mr Kenny wrote to ministers on Friday, asking for "additional proposals" which would make a "significant contribution" to a reduction in the pay and pensions bill.

He outlined a number of suggestions to "accelerate" such a reduction, to include proposed changes to rosters and, specifically, "including the length of the working day and week".

In a recent interview with this newspaper, Mr Quinn said teachers "could be more productive; we could get greater outcomes from them".

At the moment teachers work around 22 "facing hours" in the classroom in front of pupils. While most teachers work additional hours outside the classroom, productivity levels vary wildly.

Dr Reilly has also sought to achieve greater flexibility from hospital consultants.

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