Thursday, 14 December 2017
Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017: Committee and Remaining Stages
I want to ask about the restoration of pay in 2019 for public servants who are, as it is called, non-covered. What exactly is meant by "non-covered"? Is it people whose pay was not reduced? Is it new entrants? Is it people who had some but not all of their pay cut, as they did not come within the scope of the reductions to pay?
It relates to those who are covered and not covered by the agreement as arrived at by the Government and the trade unions. As I said on the previous occasion in the House, we envisage a situation where we hope everybody will be covered by the agreement and that everybody will be able to avail of the full restoration in accordance to the schedules I outlined.
I thank the Minister of State for his time this afternoon. Unfortunately, I was not able to stay until the end of the Second Stage debate on Tuesday but I read the record and I agree with something the Minister of State said. I commend him on the achievement of unwinding the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation in an orderly and controlled manner. Considering the context in which FEMPI was passed and the progress that has been made since that time, it is something to take a moment to consider and I commend the Minister of State and the Department on this.
That being said, I want to signal my opposition to section 22. The section suspends the awarding of increments to trade unions that have not signed up to the public service stability agreement and it ensures they will not receive any benefits of the agreement between 2018 and 2021. It deliberately penalises public servants not covered by the public service stability agreement with slower pay restoration, suspends incremental increases until 2021 and implements a lower entry threshold for additional superannuation contributions until 2021 compared with public servants whose unions did sign up.
This legislation will entrench and support discrimination by the State between cohorts of its own public servants based on their union membership. The Government will essentially reward public servants and unions that agree with it and sharply penalise those public servants and unions that do not. The unions that perhaps rejected this deal based on solidarity with members who are not given full pay restoration have now been punished. It sets a dangerous precedent and is an attempt to bulldoze opposition by offering incentives to those who subsequently sign up to the agreement via the Workplace Relations Commission.
I meant to say at the outset that, with the permission of the House, I want to clarify something. I wish to correct the record of the House on a technical matter. In Tuesday's speech I referred to the Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill as a money Bill. The Bills Office has since confirmed this is not technically correct. While a money message in respect of the imposition of a charge on public moneys and a financial resolution in respect of the imposition of a charge on the people were required for the Bill, it does not meet the technical definition of a money Bill.
I acknowledge and appreciate what the Senator has said on what we want to do. As I said in the other House and here the other night, none of us has a monopoly when it comes to the concern we have for the unwinding of FEMPI. It was an instrument at the time that had to be used in a fairly drastic situation. It is about affordability and order. We want to do both together and, as I said on Second Stage, we are committed as a Government to making sure it is done and we are committed to working with the trade union movement and its representatives through the structures of the agreement.
As I said to Senator Burke earlier, it is the ambition of the Government that everybody would be covered by this. We do not want to see a situation where anybody is outside but, by the same token, if we go back to 1987 when we had the Programme for Economic and Social Progress talks and all of the collective agreements that came out of it, it is an agreement between the trade union movement and its public services committee and the Government. We hope everybody will be able to avail of it. We do not want anybody to feel he or she cannot be part of this. At the same time, we have to acknowledge the vast majority of public servants in the State have voted to accept it. Even within those unions which have not voted to accept it, there are large groups that have voted to accept it. It is a reflection of the democratic process at play within the workplace.
As I said to Senator Burke, we have a sincere ambition that, ultimately, everybody will be covered by the scope of the agreement, and what the legislation simply does is to reiterate the fact it is an agreement. There are those who agreed and there are those who did not agree, but we hope as a Government that everybody will accept the will of the majority, a very clear majority in this case, and that we get to a situation where from 1 January we are able to reward everybody. This is our mission and this is what we want to do. We want to be in a situation, with the amount of money we have and all of the competing resources and demands, to get rid of this legislation. Nobody wants to see it continuing to be around, but we have to do it in an orderly way and it has to be by agreement. This is the basis on which the Bill is being proposed.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 17, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:“Report on the impact of teacher pay differentials
25.The Minister shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the impact of the differential pay scale introduced for new entrants to teaching and shall examine the following—(a) the social, financial and equality impact of the differential pay scale on new entrant teachers,
(b) the impact of the differential on the recruitment and retention of teachers, and
(c) the impact of the differential on morale and employee satisfaction of teachers employed at both pay scales.”.
This amendment is with regard to the teachers' pay differential report. As the Minister of State is aware, teachers who entered the profession after 2010 have experienced a significant pay differential compared with their longer serving colleagues, despite doing the same work. As part of budget 2011 new entrants were penalised with a 10% reduction in pay, hourly rates and allowances, while all allowances for post-2012 entrants were eventually cut completely.Teachers appointed in 2011 have lost over €26,000 in earnings in addition to the pay cuts already imposed on them in conjunction with their more senior colleagues. None of this will be new information to the Minister. The Government has decided not to remove the pay inequality between teachers in this agreement and while I do not agree with the decision, I recognise that it is being made and that we should move on. I, therefore, propose with this amendment that the Government be fully informed on its decision not to remove the pay differential. I am not saying that the Government has to remove it but I want the Minister and his Department to be fully cognisant of the impact it has had and continues to have on the quality of life of new entrant teachers, staff retention in the sector and intergenerational morale and satisfaction between teachers on both scales. The Government is fully entitled to make fiscal decisions based on the funding available to it. What I propose with this amendment is that the Government prepares a report to fully examine the impact of the decision. Opposition to this amendment would simply indicate to me that the Government is not interested in confronting the tough reality of the impact of the decision not to end the pay differential among our teachers. I, therefore, hope it can be accepted.
The Minister already made an amendment in the other House which reinforces the work that the oversight group within the public service stability agreement, PSSA, will do. He will lay a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas. This issue was obviously of concern to Members in the other House too. As I said the last day, none of us has a monopoly on this and I welcome Senator Ruane's constructive contribution to this. I said the last day and will say again that I was a new entrant teacher who came out of the training college in 2008 or 2009 - I cannot remember which - and I know exactly what people are concerned about. By the same token, this is orderly. We understand where people's concerns are coming from but we want to make sure we can do it within the confines and structures of the agreement. An oversight group has already met and is due to meet again. There will be active engagement between our Department and the public services committee. A report will be laid before the Houses, as Senator Ruane has suggested. The Minister already said that in the other House.
It is our ambition as much as everybody else's, including the teachers, the unions and all public servants, to put ourselves back on a trajectory where we do not need this legislation or to discuss this. I appreciate what Senator Ruane said: we have to be responsible and mindful of the amount of money available. I cannot accept the amendment on that basis but the sentiments she has expressed and articulated have been expressed here on Second Stage and in the other House, and we have amended the Bill on that basis to reflect that and ensure there will be a report on that basis.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 17, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:
“25.The Minister shall, within three months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the restoration of nursing and midwifery allowances by 1 July 2019 and not 1 October 2020.”.
Section 23(2) of the Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017 provides for the restoration of allowances with effect from 1 October 2020. These allowances were reduced in accordance with the provisions of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act 2009. We seek an amendment to section 23(2) to provide for the early restoration of nursing and midwifery allowances in line with the provisions of the public service stability agreement for 2018 to 2020 relating to the restoration of annualised salaries on 1 July 2019 at the latest. This is sought on the basis that annualised salaries for these grades includes allowances to which a pay-related deduction applies, where superannuation deductions apply and PAYE and PRSI contributions apply. Therefore, it is inherently unfair to apply all deductions and to delay restoration in this manner.
Senator Horkan raises an issue raised in the other House and in that debate, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, pointed out, and I am sure the Senator has followed the debate, that we are not trying to single out one group of people here. We want to have everybody covered by the agreement and the benefits laid out in the legislation. We do not want to single out one group. While I do not doubt the Senator's motives and ambition to make sure this is done properly, the Bill already provides for the restoration of all fixed allowances that were reduced under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act 2009. The reductions were applied to allowances across the public service and include allowances paid to health sector grades, such as nurses and consultants, as well as allowances paid in other sectors such as to gardaí and teachers. The FEMPI reductions were not confined to nursing and midwifery allowances and professions only. As such, it would not be appropriate to consider a faster restoration of one group over another. We want to do this for everybody and for everybody to benefit from it. As I said to Senator Ruane, and as I know the House appreciates, we want to do it in an orderly way which we can afford.
I refer again to the point I made here last night and again today, that the oversight body of the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018 to 2020 has met and we hope to make progress on this. It will take time. Everybody knows our budgetary figures for 2019 and 2020. They are far better than they were in the past. The Minister is not giving and cannot give commitments because he does not have a crystal ball but there is a commitment by the Minister, Department and officials to engage positively in this. The trade union movement has been receptive to that. We have come with clean hands. We do not want to have this hanging around. It is on that basis that I ask the Senator if he would consider withdrawing the amendment.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 19, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:
“Early pension restoration for retired public servants
28.The Minister shall within three months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas a report on restoring all public service pensions by 2019.”.
This amendment relates to early pension restoration for retired public servants. As the Minister of State knows, there is a difference between those who retired after 29 February 2012 and those who retired before that. The differences in their annualised amount of various reductions are significant, with 12% versus 3%. It is quite a big difference and I ask the Minister of State to consider preparing that report.
I thank Senator Horkan for raising the issue. The same issue was raised in the Dáil by his colleague, Deputy Calleary, and at the time, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, agreed to supply information to Deputy Calleary, by means of a paper to him personally or to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, whichever is more appropriate to discuss and debate it, or on the floor of the House by way of a parliamentary question. It is not an issue. The information will include the cost of the various options if the restoration schedule for public service pension reduction was to be changed, what the cost would be per year and what impact any change would have on the public service stability agreement. Officials in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform informed me that they have already started work on this. I am happy to commit to provide the same information to the Senator, anybody else who wants it and the committee on that basis. Given the spirit of what has been agreed in the Dáil and is on the record as being said by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, I ask Senator Horkan to consider withdrawing his amendment.
I want to talk generally on the issue of public service pensions because it is not just a question of so-called civil servants. What is forgotten in this House, or perhaps happens as a result of cowardice, is the remuneration and pension arrangements for Members of this House. They should be taken into account. I would point out to the Minister of State that in an extraordinary move, the late Brian Lenihan removed, with the stroke of a pen, the long service increment attaching to Members of this House. I do not think there is another job in the country that does not have a long service increment. It is an extraordinary situation and it certainly does not cost the State a huge amount of money. I am about the only person to raise this because I do not care what the public thinks because the public does not think. I was listening to the wireless this morning and people were talking about the Dáil bar. Apparently, the Dáil bar is where we all get free drinks, is heavily subsidised by the taxpayer and is where we meet our constituents. I have never heard a greater load of rubbish in my life and, as I have said before, if Members of this House gave away all their money to St. Vincent de Paul, cast off their clothing and jumped off the roof of Leinster House, the public would simply not give a damn.We should have a system where the income of Members of this House is brought back. We are talking about civil servants. My heart goes out to the people who are under €30,000 or whatever it is. Then we have people at €60,000, €60,000 to €100,000, €100,000 to €150,000, and €150,000 plus. These are the civil servants. We are the elected representatives of the people of Ireland. Are we too gutless to show some sense of our own dignity and what we are worth? I spoke this morning on the Order of Business about the work done by Senator Mark Daly and others of us in this House in creating a situation where an Irish Sign Language is recognised for the first time.
In this session, I have repeatedly drawn attention to the measures initiated here and the extraordinarily valuable work that the Seanad has done that the Dáil has not done. We should have respect for our own dignity. I would like to ask the Minister of State to take back to Government my strong feelings and the strong feelings that are reflected in private conversations between myself and other Members of the House about the way in which we are treated and the ridiculously small allowances.
I said this not only about the Seanad. I have also pointed out that people bellyache about the Taoiseach. Whatever he gets I do not know and I do not care. He gets a hell of a lot less than middle managers in most big companies in this country. They are only dealing with decisions that affect their company. The Taoiseach, whatever party he comes from at any particular stage, is dealing with questions that involve the future, the welfare, and the dignity of the entire citizenry of Ireland. I have no problem with the Taoiseach being paid a proper decent remuneration.
I am very lucky in that I have been re-elected eight times. There are others who have not been so lucky. It is a problematic and perilous career as the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, young and all as he is, knows. One can be cast out very easily. I know this is an unpopular stance to take. However, I am just about the only person in this House who will take it. I took this opportunity to make the point and I want to make it really strongly. I ask the Minister of State to take this back to Government. It is time we got a bit of pay restoration for politicians. It will not be popular. However, the public will not remember it in a week's time. No matter what we do they will regard it with complete and total indifference. Thanks to the impact of a completely negative media about politicians, they will continue to have a dim view of us. The kind of stuff that I heard this morning about free drinks in the Dáil bar. That was absolutely typical of the utter abysmal ignorance of the majority of Irish people about the function of Parliament and the way in which we are remunerated.
I thank Senator Horkan for his co-operation. I acknowledge the comments of Senator Norris. As a young fellow, I watched the Senator from afar and little did I think I would wind up in the same room as him.
We had a very good discussion on Second Stage on the issue that he is suggesting. As I said in another forum, politics is a very honourable profession. From time to time people who are not honourable come in and run down its reputation. At the same time we have to have the ability to defend what it is to be a politician and a public servant. We are public servants as well. We had a good discussion here the last night. I relayed a lot of the concerns that were made by Members relating to the vulnerability of Members, their age profile and whether people will actually take up this profession. Over recent years we have seen elections take place more frequently. The level of certainty is gone through the floor.
While we want to make sure that we do not have a situation where there are uncontrolled levels of expenditure on the political classes, at the same time, as Senator McDowell said the other night, we want to make sure as well that if somebody is coming into this profession, the Seanad or the Dáil does not become the preserve of people who have nothing to lose. We are in a precarious position. I asked the Leader of the House at the time and the Cathaoirleach to consider a more open and frank discussion in this House on how we value politics and politicians. I do not disagree with what Senator Norris said about a lot of the debates that are held here. It is not only the media which run down politicians and politics. It is politicians too.
We do have a race to the bottom. As Senator Norris quite rightly said, if we turned up for work here and were not paid at all, we would still be paid too much for some people. We have to have a very honest discussion in Ireland if we are to attract younger people into politics, which young people in many cases are leaving professions and are coming into a precarious situation where, as Senator McDowell said the other night, effectively they are rendering themselves unemployable at the end of their career. If we do not have that discussion, politics is fast going to become the preserve of those who have nothing to lose. We are going to narrow very sharply and very soon the base of people who will come in here and who will want to come in here. We have to have an honest discussion on it.
I agree with many of the comments that were made about how the place is perceived outside. That is our fault too in terms of how we portray ourselves. There is a job for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to do in terms of making people more au fait with the work of Deputies and Senators, members of the Government, members of the public service who work here and others. This is far from Disneyland. I can assure people that as a rural Deputy with a massive constituency to cover, it is far from the Shangri-La that some people would espouse in the lofty confines of the other estate. However, it is an honourable profession.
If we are to attract people into it, then we need to start having an honest conversation about how we attract them, what we do with them when they are here, and what happens to them when they are unceremoniously ditched, as they can be at a much younger age now because politics has become more fluid. Do they become perennial members of the scrapheap of life or do they have an alternative career? Do they have something to offer maybe in the public service? I have raised it at meetings here before. Why is it that politicians are excluded, for want of a better word, for taking up a career in the public service other than in teaching? Why is it that they cannot become ambassadors for instance?
We have former Ministers, Deputies and Senators who would do great work for Ireland overseas. I welcome the comments because I would have been a kind of a citizen of Siberia in the other House for having the audacity to suggest it. We need to start talking honestly about politics, politicians, the cost of it, the number of us and the size of our constituencies, what is expected of us, what our staff are subjected to, what they are asked and what our demands are. Let us have a proper discussion about remuneration. I do not disagree one scintilla that politicians are the last people who should be determining politicians' pay. They are the very last group of people. If we are ever to unwind ourselves from this situation, we need to very mindful and very cognisant of the fact that we could be on very dangerous ground if our pay were to be restored in one fell swoop in the future, because that would be perceived as a gigantic jump in terms of salaries and the world and its mother would be giving out about whoever comes after me.
We also as politicians need to start defending our profession rather than running each other down and, at the first opportunity, saying this is a waste of money or that is a waste of money. There are bodies there, and I have come from a meeting with one of them, the Standards in Public Office Commission. Legislation will be coming into this House, which I hope all the Senators support, dealing with the standards applying to public servants, including officeholders, to Deputies and to Senators. If we have an honest conversation about that, then we can restore a bit of honour into this profession. We not all crooked. I resent the fact that some people assume that because we have the letters TD after our names or Senator before our names that we are somehow crooked. We are not. A small minority of people who went before us were and they did untold damage to the profession. It is up to the profession now to clean itself up and restore its own reputation. I am also in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and I look forward to another debate, if the Seanad is of a mind in January or February to have an honest discussion.I do not know whether I would be the Minister of State sent in because what I might say would not be too popular in some quarters. I would welcome that. It is badly overdue and needed.
I welcome the Minister of State's careful and considered response to my impromptu intervention. There was an independent assessment of our income some years ago and that has been abrogated. One understands the panic the Government got into at the time of the financial crisis. That was very human. I do not totally blame Brian Lenihan, who was a good friend of mine, but he made a disastrous mistake. The secretarial staff here get long service increments. Why on earth are we the only people who do not?
I recall the allowances being introduced, as I recall, by Charlie McCreevy, in response to the fact that politicians in their usual slithery gutless way had decided for public relations purposes not to take several increases in wages. The allowances were really a kind of fraud and were introduced as a sop. They are now circumscribed by the most extraordinary, ridiculous nonsensical things. One of the main allowances is for hiring public relations companies and for expense account lunches. What could be more corrupt than that?
I used to use some of my allowances to publish a newsletter. On one of the allowances a newsletter could not be published. My secretary rang and said that it is intended to be for the preparation, publication and distribution of things like newsletters but she was told they would not pay for the postage. Like hell they will not. I have no intention whatever of returning the money and I serve notice here that I will not return it. I understand the English language: preparation, publication and distribution. I hope the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, wherever it lives, is listening to this. Distribution means postage. It is the most ridiculous kind of Sir Humphrey pettifogging. I am fed up to my back teeth with it.
I welcome the Minister of State's approach. The overwhelming majority of politicians are thoroughly honourable, decent people from all parties and none. There are one or two who fiddle things for pathetically small sums of money. If one is going to sell one's reputation then one should sell it for something worthwhile, not the few footling bob that these halfwits sold out their consciences and the reputation in politics for. I apologise-----
I oppose this section. We also opposed section 21 and tabled some amendments in the Dáil to both of these sections that were ruled out of order. They were reasonable amendments to tackle the punishment clauses imposed in this Bill which are designed to teach unions a lesson. This will have a detrimental effect on the ability of unions representing key areas to negotiate on their behalf.
Nobody is suggesting in this agreement or in the legislation that this is to take on or break up unions. This goes back to 1987 and beyond, during which there has a long tradition of governments of all political colours negotiating with representatives of public servants in a calm fashion within the confines of what is and is not available and putting a trajectory in place to resolve long-standing issues.
It is the sincere ambition of the Government that everybody would be covered by this. We would not be having this discussion if we did not have the money available to us, which we have, thankfully, to start unwinding this. That is due in no small way to the sacrifices of the public servants at the centre of this, their families, the private sector and the economy in general. We are in a much better situation, but we do not have as much money as we would like to have to do it within the timeframe we would like. As the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, said on this matter in the other House, if we did not have the measures that are contained in the Bill for those who are covered and not, we would not have an agreement to present. Everybody will benefit from the Bill, some in a different timeframe from others, but we would hope that everybody would be in the same timeframe. That is what the Minister has committed to. In response to Senator Ruane, that is why there is the working group within the confines of the public service agreement, under the stewardship of the public service committee and the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, which is committed to having honest and continuing dialogue on the end of financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI. I understand the sentiments expressed here and in the other House but we are trying to have a logical and proper unwinding with what is available to us.
I side with Senator Conway-Walsh. A good job was done in negotiating the agreement but I was president of the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, when the first FEMPI was negotiated. It was tough going. Croke Park II collapsed and we went on to make the Lansdowne Road agreement. There was always deep-seated resentment at the fact that the FEMPI legislation brought in punitive measures for those who did not sign up to the agreement. We have moved to a point where there is no need for punitive measures now. Almost all the unions are on side and those which are not in full agreement are in the tent. I accept what the Minister of State and his colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, have a Government to run and a country to fund but I feel that section 22 and this section are too much and there is no need for them.
I take the Minister of State's points and accept what he is saying, but from a trade union point of view many of the retired people have made a huge issue of what they referred to as "Murphyism" in the first FEMPI, where people had to declare they were not in a particular union to gain any benefits. I do not see this changing today but I support Senator Conway-Walsh.
I would like to ask the Minister of State about section 33. On the bottom of page 23 of the Bill it says:
In the case of the year 2020, the contribution shall be payable—(a) by a relevant person who is a member of a standard accrual pension scheme as follows:(i) where the pensionable pay of the person in that year is less than or equal to
If pensionable earnings are less than €60,000, a person will be charged a rate of 10% on the amount that exceeds €34,500. Is that the case? That person pays 10% of any earnings above €34,500. Is that on top of other contributions? Is that the contribution to the pension?
For clarity, that figure of €60,000 is not the pension amount, but rather the pensionable pay prior to retirement. Is that not correct? If that person was retiring with a pension of 50% of pensionable salary, the actual pension would be €30,000 rather than €60,000.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Paul Daly, Frank Feighan, Robbie Gallagher, Maura Hopkins, Gerry Horkan, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, James Reilly.
I oppose this section as it is basically the same as the previous section. It relates to non-covered public servants. All the arguments that applied to the previous section would apply to this section as well. The principle is linked to section 22, which entrenches discrimination between cohorts of public servants based on union membership and their level of support and opposition for the Government's industrial relations policies. The section imposes differential pension payment rates for those not signed up to the Public Service Stability Agreement, PSSA. Those covered public servants have an exemption threshold of €34,500 before they must make pension contributions. Workers who did not support the PSSA are on the threshold of €28,750. At a time when the inequalities in our pension system are receiving so much scrutiny due to the injustice of changes made in 2012 that overwhelmingly targeted disadvantaged women, it is not acceptable for the Government to further perpetuate pension inequality based on union membership.
I thank Senator Ruane for her contribution. I have addressed points relating to covered and non-covered public servants, the confines of the agreement and the historical background. I do not propose to repeat myself. I note the Senator's comments but I do not agree with them. I will leave it at that.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 32, after line 16, to insert the following:“Report on union membership
46. The Minister shall, within six months after the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the following—(a) the impact of the measures contained in this bill on union membership,
(b) the potential measures that could be taken to support and encourage union membership,
(c) the potential options for legislative reform to support union membership, and
(d) the potential options for the reintroduction of tax relief for union membership.”.
This amendment calls on the Department to prepare a report on union membership. The approach in the Bill to pay restoration has union membership at its core. It entrenches different treatment by the State of public servants, almost entirely on the union to which they pay their dues. If the State is to pursue this as Government policy, it has a responsibility to be fully aware of the impact on our trade unions. If we accept that trade unions provide an important public good in allowing for collective bargaining and better labour standards for all workers, the Government needs to monitor the impact of its policy on this crucial sector of society.
There is a concern that the way pay restoration is structured in the legislation will assert pressure on those workers whose unions have not signed up to the Public Service Stability Agreement to end their union membership in order to notify the Workplace Relations Commission that they agree to be bound by the agreement. Therefore, a direct impact of Government policy could be to contribute to the breaking up of trade unions and a damaging of the ability of workers in this country to bargain collectively.
If that is the case, my amendment would be a crucial addition to the Bill. We need to know the scale of the problem and its impact on union membership. This is provided for in paragraph (a). If we agree that this Bill could have a negative impact on union membership, the Government should examine options on how such membership could be supported by the State in recognition of the public good derived from trade unions. The Government should consider drafting legislation in support of measures that support trade unions as well as the reintroduction of tax reliefs. I am not proposing to put into the legislation that these things need to happen. However, the Government should be informed of the impact of its decisions and options on how conditions could be improved. Opposition would indicate to me that the Government is not interested in tracking the consequences of its actions. I hope the Minister accepts the amendment.
I thank the Senator, but will not be accepting the amendment for a number of reasons. First, it presupposes that there will be people who are outside the agreement but, as I have already said, we hope everyone will be covered by it. Further, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform engages with the Workplace Relations Commission and all of the bodies established under statute, not to mention the fact that an oversight body is included in the agreement. As late as the week before last, the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and I met representatives of the public service committee of the trade union movement. The Minister has active engagement on a continuous basis with them. It has to be acknowledged, and I would like to acknowledge it at this stage, that the work the Minister and the officials in the Department have done in the run-up to this agreement, against the backdrop of what was a fairly difficult set of negotiations, proves beyond any doubt, and all political parties since 1987 can take some credit for it, that there is active and ongoing engagement by Government through the departmental councils and the general council as well as the conciliation and arbitration scheme and all the other schemes and machinery of the State, whether industrial relations machinery or otherwise. Some of it is legislated for and some happens on an informal basis. However, there is no attempt by any stretch of the imagination on the part of the those of us in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to do anything other than engage actively and collaboratively with the trade union movement.
Ultimately, the prize has been, is and, it is hoped, will continue to be industrial peace and the unwinding of the FEMPI legislation. I am a former member of the INTO. Although I am not teaching at the moment, if at some stage the electorate decides to return me to that profession, I would hope to renew my membership of the INTO. I hope the general secretary and my colleagues in the teaching profession will have me back. I also hope that it would not be as soon as some people might like.
I appreciate the Senator's sentiments but it is a matter for the unions to maintain their membership and encourage people to join them. The Government is bound by legislation and the Constitution to ensure it engages with members of unions. Nowhere in the legislation does it suggest anything other than continued engagement between Government and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, in the person of the Minister, and the trade unions. The Minister's bona fides are well established given the number of meetings held and the level of interaction he has had and plans to have from January onwards once the Bill is enacted.
I accept most of what the Minister of State has said, especially that relating to the Department's intentions. Unfortunately, however, sometimes policy has unintended consequences. Whether it is the intention of a Department or a particular policy to discriminate in a particular way or to discourage union membership or not, unfortunately the impact of some of these decisions is that people are faced with the decision of joining or removing themselves from a certain union so that they can go to the Workplace Relations Commission. It is up to unions to encourage membership but it is up to us not to create policies that discourage union membership. For that reason, I will press the amendment.
I meant to say that the number of people who have voted for the agreement would disprove that argument. The union membership see that the merit in the agreement far outweighs any potential negative. At no stage was there an attempt by the Government to usurp the role of the unions. We respect them and the mandate of the public services committee, which is overwhelmingly in favour of the agreement. As a consequence, we hope that everyone will be covered by it.
I welcome the Bill. As someone who is a member of a trade union and who was a Minister and introduced many of these FEMPI cuts because of a financial emergency, I welcome the fact that they are being unwound. They are having a hugely detrimental effect, especially on general practice, where we see a raft of young doctors leaving the country. The matter was referred to on the Order of Business today. A huge raft of older doctors will retire in the next few years and many will retire early. Many doctors have closed their lists to GMS patients.
As I said this morning, I very much welcome carers getting access to the medical card scheme. I cannot think of a more deserving group. However, I fear that the doctors will not be there to deliver the service. Therefore, having inflicted a 38% reduction through FEMPI, I hope that this will be unwound quickly. We are facing a real manpower crisis in general practice.I commend the Minister of State on the Bill.
I thank the Minister for introducing this legislation. This relates to the unwinding of FEMPI legislation and cuts that have been put in place since 2012. I welcome this legislation and hope we can restore full pay and pensions to the people who took many hits over the past ten years. It is well deserved for the people who took the cuts and made sacrifices for the whole nation. I congratulate this and the previous Government, along with the various Ministers across the divide, on taking the nation back to where it is today. We have almost full employment now when we had close to 17% unemployment at one stage. Many sacrifices were made by the people of the State and they deserve credit. I wish the Minister of State well with the legislation.
I thank the Senators and officials for facilitating the swift passage of the Bill. As I said on a previous day, it is important as we are trying to get this done before 1 January 2018 so people can get paid. I request the co-operation of the Seanad, pursuant to Article 25.2.2° of the Constitution, in requesting the President to sign the Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017 on a date earlier than the fifth day after the date on which the Bill shall have been presented to him.
I acknowledge the contributions made, particularly by Senators with a genuine concern, as we all have. Nobody has a monopoly on this. The matters mentioned have been raised with all Members of the Oireachtas but we must act within the confines of the amount of money available to us. I acknowledge the role of the public servants who drafted the Bill and the lead Minister, Deputy Donohoe, for the manner in which it has been done up to now. We are committed as a Government to working with trade unions representing public servants to ensure we can get to a position where there is no requirement in future for FEMPI. That will depend on a number of factors, none more than the continued economic growth of the State and the amount of money available for it to spend on such matters. The Government must be cognisant of that.
I thank the Acting Chairman and the officials in the Seanad, as well as the Senators, for their co-operation. It was a very constructive debate on a very important matter.