Thursday, 7 February 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Public Sector Staff Retirements
16. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the details of the report to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on the cohort of workers that will leave the interim arrangements and retire under the Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Act 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5955/19]
41. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when the report under section 3 of the Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Act 2018 will be published; if the report will include options for persons that are working on interim arrangements due to reaching 65 years of age in 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5766/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 16 and 41 together.
The Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Act 2018 provides for an increase to age 70 in the compulsory retirement age of most public servants recruited before 1 April 2004.
The Act provides that I, as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will, within three months of the passing of the Act, prepare and lay before the Oireachtas a report on the public servants who were forced to retire between 6 December 2017 and the commencement of the Act, due to reaching the age of 65 years, and on potential remedies to assist this cohort of worker.
As the Deputies are aware, public servants who reached the compulsory retirement age of 65 before the new legislation was enacted were required to retire in accordance with the statutory compulsory retirement age in effect at the time. Those who availed of the interim arrangements did so in the knowledge that the contract was for one year only, until they reached the age of 66. The Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Act 2018 has no effect on those public servants who availed of the interim arrangements. The terms of their fixed term contracts will continue to apply and they will cease working at age 66 as previously provided.
Work on the report under section 3A(6) has commenced. The report will be prepared in accordance with the provisions and the timelines provided for in the Act.
When we were dealing with the legislation previously, Deputy Cowen and I outlined the issue facing this cohort of people and the unfairness attached to the situation. A commitment was given that the report would address these issues. I now hear that the report will not address this cohort of people and they will just have to retire at 66 and that is it. Perhaps the Minister can confirm this is the case.
During the passage of that legislation, and on foot of amendments put forward by Deputy Jonathan O'Brien and me, the Minister agreed that because the application of the legislation could not be retrospective he would - within three months - bring forward the report that has been alluded to. Are we still on that timeframe? If we are, when can we expect its publication? I do not expect any indication as to how it will be resolved until the report is before the House.
At the time of the legislation going through the Houses, and on foot of the Deputies' amendments, we undertook to insert a provision into the Bill for a report. The report is under way, as the Minister has said. During the passage of the Bill in the Dáil and the Seanad, I had said that we also have to be cognisant of others, and Members agreed with me. There is this cohort, and we all share in concern for them, but we also must be mindful of those public sector workers who did not avail of those interim arrangements. If we were to enter into an arrangement - which the Attorney General has advised is not possible without legislative remedies on foot of the report - where would it leave those public servants who retired with a commitment from the Government that the interim arrangements were just that? We had good discussions in the Houses and on Committee Stage about what would we do with the public servants who had decided not to enter into interim arrangements. There was no real answer forthcoming on that. It was pointed out, and the Government and I understood, that there was a difficulty for those people. When the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, announced the Bill and the parameters of the legislation, and when the Bill was brought into the House, it was made very clear that - unfortunately for the people concerned - the arrangements for those reaching the age of 65 in 2018 were interim arrangements only for one year until they reach the age of 66. Some other people had also fallen out of their interim arrangements during the passage of the Bill, and the delay in the legislation.
I do not disagree with what the Minister of State says, but my understanding was that the report was going to look at possible remedies. While we all accepted the advice the Minister of State was given about this cohort of people who may not have accepted the interim arrangements and the unfairness in that regard, I certainly understood we would look at this issue as part of the report and, I hope, find a way forward. Whether it would be through a legislative or other solution, no one could say before the report was completed. However, that is not impression I am now getting in terms of what the report will indicate. We will just have to wait for it.
Without going that far, I have every faith in the commitment given at the time that a report would be put before the House which would possibly offer remedies to that cohort who we all agree were left in something of a limbo by the announcement, enactment and year's grace. They were caught in the middle. Will the Minister of State confirm when he expects the report to be finalised?
As the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, said, work has started. We gave a commitment in the legislation to work within the timeframe of the Bill. I was very clear in pointing out at the time, both here and in the Seanad, that while a report might be laid before the Houses, it might not provide the remedies for which we had all hoped. If there is a remedy, it may require legislation to give effect to it. I made it very clear, as did the Government more widely, that there might not be a remedy, taking into account those who were included in this arrangement. More importantly, I refer to those who did not avail of the interim arrangements because of the very clear commitment of the Government that those who entered into them were doing so for one year only and that there would be no continuation, regardless of when the legislation was passed. I understand the concerns. The Government and everyone in the House understand them. However, based on the commitment given at the time of the publication of the Bill, we were left with the decision we were left with when the Bill passed into law.
As the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, said, work on it is under way. We gave a commitment to work within the timeframe. I do not want it to be suggested there are negative connotations. I want to be upfront with the House. When I agreed to accept the amendment, I did so in the full knowledge that it was not a panacea or magic wand. I do not want false hope to be held out to the people concerned. They had a difficulty when they entered into the arrangement and I want to be upfront with them. I said at the time that if, when the report was brought before the House, there were remedies, the Government would look at them. However, I also want to be realistic and upfront based on the advice we have received from the Office of the Attorney General.