Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 2 October 2013
Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform: Select Sub-Committee on Public Expenditure and Reform
Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) (Amendment) Bill 2013: Committee Stage
I indicated on Second Stage that I would be tabling amendments on Report Stage. These relate to small textual changes required in respect of section 2, namely, the replacement of references to vocational education committees, which have been abolished, with references to education and training boards; the replacement in section 6 of the word "that" on line 27 of the relevant page with the words "the pay"; and amendment of the terms of section 9(2) relating to the provisions of the commencement order.
I also propose to introduce amendments which will set out the terms of a new sick leave scheme for the public service and give me as Minister the power to vary that scheme in certain circumstances. My Department engaged with the public service unions throughout last year on the introduction of revised sick leave arrangements across the public service. The proposed changes provide for a reduction in access to paid sick leave across the public service with a view to ensuring greater productivity and a reduction in the associated costs of sick leave. I will circulate the details of these amendments in good time and we will have an opportunity to discuss them in detail on Report Stage.
Is the Houses of the Oireachtas included in the definition under section 1? I ask that question in the context of the possible transfer from a public body to the position of Secretary General - Clerk of the Dáil. How would that fit in with this legislation?
The appointment of the Clerk of the Dáil is governed by independent law, originally the 1959 Act, as amended by the 2003 Act. As I have indicated previously, it is my intention to introduce further amendments in this regard. There will be legislation to allow for the open advertising of a public competition in respect of that position into the future.
I agree with the principle of open and public competition in respect of the position. Will the competition by conducted by the Houses of the Oireachtas as opposed to a group of Secretaries General, etc.? It is a public body and the competition should be conducted by the Oireachtas.
The matter is not germane to this Bill. We will have an opportunity in the near future to debate the issue under separate legislation.
In response to the Deputy's general point, the top level appointments committee or TLAC has been reconstituted. The majority of that committee are independent outsiders, not Secretaries General. The chair is an independent outside appointee. In any interview panel the majority are external persons and so is the chair.
In looking at public service bodies, we have been talking about An Garda Síochána, local authorities, the HSE and education committees. Most of those can appoint their own chief executive officers. They do not have to go through TLAC, so why would the Oireachtas, which is a separate body, have to do so?
There is a pro tem appointment and I understand that there is an acting clerk. Under the existing legislation, the power of the clerk accrues to the acting clerk. In other words, the Clerk Assistant acts up.
I move amendment No. 1:
Perhaps the Minister can respond to this amendment.
In page 6, between lines 48 and 49, to insert the following:“(2) Any employee who is subject to compulsory redeployment, following the expiration of the Haddington Road Agreement, shall have a right of appeal of such redeployment to a designated officer of the Public Appointments Commission.”.
It is important to be clear that this Bill does not provide the power to the Public Appointments Service, PAS, to establish, in any circumstances, a system under which employees may be compulsorily forced to move. That power is not devolved to the PAS. The Bill is designed to facilitate definitive voluntary cross-sectoral moves. It will not and cannot in itself force such reassignments. If cross-sectoral moves are agreed with specific individuals in future, including outside the terms of a specific collective agreement or post-Haddington Road, the Bill will also facilitate those provided that they are not in conflict with the overall mobility and redeployment policy of my Department.
People who are unhappy with the proposal to move to another employment should be able to appeal. I do not agree, however, that it is necessary to establish a statutory appeals system. Within the Croke Park agreement there is an appeals system in respect of individuals being redeployed within the health, education and local authority sectors. The details of that appeals system have been agreed between the social partners and within the unions, and have been in active use for the past two years. With this new facility under the Haddington Road agreement, where a staff member wishes to appeal a redeployment assignment, whether cross-sectoral or within the Civil Service, such an appeal will be considered by an agreed adjudicator who will issue a decision within the terms of the scheme, and must do so within 21 days. The decision will be binding on all parties and will be final. In all instances, the individual will be required to take up the position offered in advance of the adjudication process.
Will the Minister explain the difference between the procedure that has been operated for the past two and a half years under the Croke Park agreement and the new one under the Haddington Road agreement? What is the difference?
It is expanded, however, because not all sectors were encompassed by the Croke Park agreement. The Croke Park arrangement dealt with health, education and local authorities. Now all sectors will have an appeals system.
I move amendment No. 2:
I would like the Minister to respond to this amendment.
In page 7, between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following:“(3) Employees who are subject to redeployment shall be afforded the right to obtain appropriate training for his or her new role within six months of the employee’s redeployment, and the completion of such training shall be verified by the Public Appointments Commission.”.
In recent years, there has been a substantial increase in pressure on public service organisations to maximise the use of scarce resources and do more with less. Mechanisms are already in place to make heads of organisations accountable in that regard. In that context, it is clearly in the best interests of public sector organisations to ensure their staff are adequately trained for the roles to which they are assigned. The training and development requirements of staff are addressed in a variety of ways by the public sector bodies. For example, a considerable amount of new entrants' time is devoted to on the job learning. More formally, public sector bodies monitor the learning and development needs of their staff through the performance management and development system of which the learning and development plan is a fundamental element.
One of the core principles of the performance management development system, PMDS, is fostering career progression through continual learning and development. Therefore, an elaborate training process is in place. I do not know if the Deputy has had a chance to examine PeoplePoint, in Clonskeagh, which is one of the new organisations we have created. Approximately 200 people are there now and everybody was trained in advance of moving. They all think that pre-training before taking up an assignment is an extraordinarily important part of redeployment. That will be the case across the public service.
I move amendment No. 3:
Apart from giving a standard reply, I ask the Minister to deal with the issue of employees who wish to transfer to a new role within the public service. I am thinking of two areas. People have contacted me who want to transfer within the public service. They are transferring from a Department that is over its employment framework number, yet they are still not being allowed to go. The Department does not want to let them go for a particular reason.
In page 7, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:“(5) The Minister shall, within 6 months of the enactment of this Act, bring forward a report on the feasibility of the Public Appointments Commission establishing a process whereby employees who wish to voluntarily transfer to a new role within the public service may be matched up with another employee who is willing to transfer in the opposite direction.”.
I understand that, too. The second question concerns people who want to transfer to the new shared services. I am thinking in particular of local authorities. Fortunately, Laois was granted the shared services for all local authority payrolls. I have already been contacted by people working in other local authorities who want to transfer in due course when the system gets up and running. What mechanism is in place for that? Can they be refused such a transfer? Let us say that a person is in Dublin and wants to return to Laois. Can Fingal or any other Dublin authority refuse to let people go? What is the process?
We want to facilitate mobility as far as possible. There has been extraordinary mobility in recent years under the Croke Park agreement. More than 10,000 staff have moved. Needless to say, however, it can be complicated where there are pressure points and surplus staff. For example, I dealt with one case over the summer where there was pressure on the Garda vetting unit in Tipperary. There were surplus Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine staff in Tipperary, 25 of whom moved into the vetting unit. That sort of mobility is being facilitated.
Long distance mobility is a bit more problematic but it should not be an insurmountable issue. I have dealt with cases myself, although I am trying not to deal with individual cases. There will be very good staff whom line managers are reluctant to let go, and that is understandable. There will be cases where a particular skills set is available that cannot be replicated by somebody just moving in, and people are unwilling to let them go. There is also a grading issue and people may even say they will drop a grade to get to a place.
Is there a mechanism in place within the local authorities? There was a central applications facility. Is there a system in place to which people can apply? How does a person set about trying to get there?
When we are setting up a new agency, if one is doing a shared service, one would apply to the new management of that shared service to say that one is available. The person would then apply to his or her own line manager to be released to it. That happens. There is no formal structure or clearing house.
My last question concerns people transferring from one body to another. I can think of a particular case where they are not being given credit for their years in the previous public sector body. Is that happening much? I am told the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is holding up some of these issues.
This Bill facilitates that. Up to now, mobility was not on a statutory basis. Staff were on secondment as opposed to formal transfer. This legislation puts what has happened for the past several years under Croke Park on a statutory basis in order that terms and conditions will be regularised for people who move positions.