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The Irish Times is worried about Public Sector ‘reform’. Again. And.. firstly, secondly, thirdly… Michael Casey writes about the economy. May 27, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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The Irish Times is banging the drum about public sector reform. And why?

THIS YEAR economic activity is expected to contract by 9 per cent. In 2010, according to recent estimates by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), output per head will have fallen back to the 2001 level. This unprecedented contraction has involved major and painful economic adjustment, in the form of pay cuts, job losses, business closures, and worries about the solvency of many private sector pension schemes.

To date, the private sector has shouldered much of the burden of adjustment in this recession, with the rate of unemployment expected to reach 17 per cent next year. The public sector has, by comparison, escaped lightly so far.

Hmmm… that’s not quite what the Irish Times said in living memory. For what of this comment from an editorial in November which argued that:

At this time, when many private sector workers are facing into unemployment or a wage freeze, public servants should be willing to accept more efficient and flexible work practices in return for their privileged and protected positions and extremely generous pension entitlements. By and large, the public service does a good job. It is not the bloated, inefficient monster that is sometimes portrayed by its critics. But, like all long-established organisations, it can benefit from change and restructuring. In particular, it should concern itself with providing flexible, integrated services that meet the needs of citizens.

Although how it is meant to do so when one reads the following proscriptions is never quite explained…

Public sector numbers actually increased last year. The public sector pension levy was a pay cut. However, the levy can also be seen as a payment by public sector workers to maintain superior pension benefits; benefits which many in the private sector no longer enjoy.

Indeed, so the argument is that lower numbers will increase quality? Hmmm…and the OECD noted that the numbers employed in the public sector were low in relation to our population. Furthermore the public sector is also working under the general tax levies which have been imposed on all workers through taxation. Now, one could argue that the pensions levy is a partial rebalancing, but is the IT seriously arguing – with further tax increases on the way (and remember, tax is a function of income), that it makes sense to impose further cuts on the public sector… in a wildly deflationary economy where consumption is down?

Still, the IT doesn’t quite make that case. Instead it strikes out on a separate path:

In March, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan announced an immediate and indefinite public sector jobs embargo. In December 2002, his predecessor in office, Charlie McCreevy announced a similar, though less draconian, ban on public service recruitment. Those job reductions failed to materialise. Instead, the number of public service employees increased by some 36,000 (13 per cent) between 2003 and 2008. This time the parlous state of the public finances allows no room for error in enforcing the embargo. The Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Mr Lenihan will be anxious to emphasise this point when, shortly, they begin talks with the trade unions on public sector reform.

But one might argue that an embargo would be actually seen by the unions as much the lesser of many potential evils. So that’s not enough for the IT.

Mr Cowen in his recent letter to the Irish Congress of the Trade Unions (Ictu) pressed for “greater flexibility” in the deployment of people and resources across public service boundaries “so that we can restructure public service delivery”. The Government wants to transform how the public service operates. Fine Gael and Labour want the same outcome,

This begs many questions. The first being what sort of flexibility. There is already considerable movement within the public sector. And as it happens I’d have no problem (not being a public sector worker!) in there being more. But how much, and to what purpose? For paradoxically, as we know, Fine Gael et al have belaboured the point on numerous occasions that actual geographic movement in the form of decentralisation is now dead. Although that was, in some respects, the most radical restructuring of the public sector imaginable and the most specific form of flexibility I can think of.

And tellingly, for all the cant there are remarkably few solid policy statements on the nature of public sector reform. For example, the IT only lists the following as an FG proposal:

Fine Gael’s deputy leader and finance spokesman, said last week that managers in the public sector should manage, or face dismissal.

That’s not exactly a stunning innovation – is it? There’s some merit in the idea, although how would it work in practice? My experience of the commercial sector across two decades is that the idea that managers face dismissal often is a comfortable myth put around by those whose experience of that sector is rather less knowledgeable than they’d propose. Companies move much more slowly than these guys suggest. Personal relationships, etc, stay peoples hands. Unbelievable inefficiencies and poor management remain rooted in place, which could equal if not indeed exceed anything in our supposedly sclerotic public sector. Although one could equally argue that trying to impose strictures lifted more or less wholesale from the private sector and force them onto public service bodies is an exercise in futility. The two areas are too divergent for such simplistic approaches.

Eamon Gilmore, leader of the Labour Party, advised public sector unions that embracing, not impeding, change was the best way of winning the publics support and of protecting the interests of union members. Serious reform of the public sector – too long shirked by all political parties – was never more necessary. An economy in crisis presents a political opportunity to achieve that reform.

And yet again, in the course of all these words the Irish Times doesn’t explicitly state what the nature of the ‘reform’ should be. Instead we see it retreat into cookie cutter supposed truisms. Could it be that they don’t actually know what such reforms might consist of? Is it possible that ‘public sector reform’ has become one of those sort of political ‘shorthand’ concepts, where its actual meaning is much much less important than its ability to make the person using it appear forceful and willing make ‘hard’ decisions? Because in all the text of the editorial one can only take away the conclusion that reform is necessary because… er… it’s necessary.

Right so. I’m convinced.

Meanwhile by way of a contrast let’s look at a piece by Michael Casey, formerly of the Central Bank and now with the IMF. His arguments are always of interest, even if one finds reasons to disagree with them. And, they have at least the virtue of being based in factual data, rather than bland reassertions of prevailing wisdom. But, before I get to that, I only just noticed a small tic of his writing style. Every piece contains within it a list… look here, here and here. It’s all first, second and third. I like that a lot. Makes for concise reading with snappy points. Clearly his time at the Central Bank and the IMF has not been wasted.

As to his views on these matters, well, today and in a previous piece which I missed are quite fascinating. Consider his thoughts on public sector reform…

Fourth, public sector reform on the required scale would probably be a 10-year project. Existing bureaucratic practices are deeply embedded and any attempt at reform is likely to be resisted, regardless of which government happens to be in power. The much-vaunted Strategic Management Initiative took years to implement and yet failed to deliver the goods.

Indeed. And even if one were to accept the notion of public service reform, how do programmes, of any kind, work out in practice?

Evidence from the IMF and World Bank indicates that the majority of countries fail to complete three-year stabilisations; the pain and civil unrest almost invariably throws the programmes off track. In the few cases where programmes have been successful, the governments involved have been able to convince people that there is light at the end of the tunnel. In Ireland, the absence of a plan is regrettable.

Three thoughts strike me. Firstly – you see, list making, it’s contagious – that even in extremis it may be impossible to impose the sort of ‘programmes’ some call for if we’re talking about civil unrest. Secondly, that even if countries fail to complete such approaches somehow they muddle through. Thirdly, that maybe in the Irish context that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve yet, despite the boosterism form the ESRI and the government, to hear a convincing analysis as to when we can expect an upturn. If ever – and I don’t mean that in a lazy ‘we’re all doomed’ sense but rather that the economy may be consigned to essential stasis for a very prolonged period.

Casey makes, what I think, are some sensible points.

Second, the public finances are not just a mess but a dilemma. We can restore stability to the public finances but only at the expense of the economy. We can reflate the economy but only at the expense of the public finances. This is an oversimplification perhaps, but it illustrates the lose/lose nature of the problem (which could have been avoided).The promise of further taxes next year plus expenditure cuts is undermining confidence and could result in civil unrest. Many people have no experience of recession and are frightened by it.

Third, social partnership probably won’t deliver an appropriate incomes policy which is so badly needed to regain competitiveness. According to the ESRI’s recent paper on recovery scenarios, this is crucial if we are to see decent growth rates in the next decade. Unfortunately, social partnership is a wounded animal and is incapable of delivering this outcome. Which government would set aside social partnership and impose wage cuts? The answer is none.

I can’t help but feel that this dilemma is an artificial one, in the sense that the cheerleaders of the economic right haven’t been able to see the wood for the trees. So obsessed have they been in their pursuit of ‘pain’ that they don’t realise that said pain will actively injure the economy. Because away from the gloomy, yet all too optimistic, uplands of the centre-right economic and political analysis there is a stark reality. Impose the pain and you kill the economy.

And Casey has no illusions about the utility of fiscal ‘stabilisation’…

Instead of a stimulus package – which other countries have introduced – we have gone in the other direction. It could prove to be the worst own goal in our history. If the Government’s top priority of “stabilising the public finances” does extinguish the last spark in the economy, all bets are off. It might not even succeed in reducing the deficit. If economic activity falls further, so will revenue, and the Government will find itself chasing a target from which it is constantly moving away.

And he asks the central question…

But why would the Government take such a huge risk?

And answers it by suggesting that…

There are several reasons.

First, it is claimed that it would be difficult and expensive to borrow abroad. Second, if we are not seen to take some pain, our international reputation will suffer. Third, we need to widen the tax base. Fourth, we have to be seen to respect EU guidelines. Losing Lisbon was embarrassing enough – in a doomsday scenario, we may need the EU to bail us out.

Fifth, we may yet need to borrow to bail out the banks; we don’t want to exhaust our borrowing capacity too soon. Sixth, the period of fiscal stabilisation that occurred in the late 1980s did not slow down the economy.

Most of these reasons are valid, but not entirely compelling. They are mainly assertions without much research support. For example, the last fiscal stabilisation in the late 1980s was successful for a variety of reasons – reasons that no longer exist. The international economy was growing well; there was no problem with banks, no credit crunch and no fear factor arising from deep recession and job losses.

His point about the difference between fiscal stabilisation then and now is crucial. There’s no point in trying to map the past on to the present. The current economy, even in its weakened state, is a very different beast from that those of us old enough to recall the 1980s remember. I can best sum it up by the term complexity. There are, to put it simply, many more layers of services, service providers, elements within the mix. None of this is to say that those could not be wiped away by a prolonged depression. But it is to say that the nostrums of the 80s are simply not going to work in the same way now as they did then. And as to the others, he clearly dismisses them as unwarranted at this point in time.

And Casey is also gloomy, albeit measured, about prospects for change:

But in any event the recovery of competitiveness is likely to be a medium-term process; it is not going to be achieved over-night. In the short run of course, lower incomes mean lower consumption – another dilemma.

So everything, to some degree, cancels out – or actively worsens – everything else. It’s quite a state we’re in. No mistake.

Nor does Casey believe that a change of government will do anything tangible to ameliorate the situation. Not with a bank guarantee and prospective nationalisation of more institutions in the offing.

A change of government is not going to effect any improvement on this front. Indeed, no political party has formulated an alternative industrial policy.

Finally, most important economic decisions are made in Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington. Irish governments of whatever hue do not have the sovereign power to make much difference. They should, of course, have the ability to hold the mirror and keep it safe, but if they let it fall there is not much they can do to fix it. For all these reasons the economy would not benefit very much from a change of government however enlightened it might be. The present Opposition parties would have much to lose if they came to power before the recession ends.

Now there’s food for thought.

Comments»

1. Joe - May 27, 2009

Another great post WBS. Public sector reform. What does it mean? Senior civil servants and the public sector unions are currently engaged in discussions on a new partnership deal. Cowen has been talking tough about flexibility in the public sector. But every partnership deal for a decade or more has had big chapters on public sector reform but the pace of reform has been slow. Unions have no problem signing up to wordy, worthy agreements but when it comes to getting people to change work practices on the ground, unions and their members have traditionally looked for pay to change. And public sector management have been abysmal in bringing in changes which will improve the service. Possibly because they don’t know what they mean by “public sector reform” either. They haven’t clear thought-out plans on how to improve their services. So I predict that there will be another partnership deal with a commitment to jointly working to reform the public service and make it more flexible. And I predict that progress in that regard post the deal will be slow!

Hope the above doesn’t come across as public service (and union) bashing. I’m one myself and a member of IMPACT. I would be of the view that we, public servants, should take the lead in public sector reform. We, through our unions, should set out a set of measures which would improve the service and then demand that they be implemented. By doing so, we would be defending our jobs. If we don’t, we’re just providing more ammo for the privatisation brigade.

Easy of course to write the above about “a set of measures”. Another day or two’s work to state what they should be, win support for them and get them implemented…

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2. alastair - May 27, 2009

Here’s one suggestion on public sector reform.

Let’s move on from the bonus ‘privilege’ holiday weekend days off and make them working days, just like everyone else.

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3. crocodile - May 27, 2009

‘Public service reform’ means different things to different people. So does the phrase ‘public service’ itself. The majority of people employed in the public service are nurses and teachers and guards, and a lot of people think, given the state of our hospitals, streets and schools, that we actually need more of all of those.
If you get people to explain what they mean, they’ll usually have an anecdote about some office full of civil servants whose job is to, I don’t know, inspect the Guinness barges or something, and who, despite having nothing to do, clock in every day and sit doing the Simplex crossword with their feet on the desk. How common is this, and how many sinecures remain, I don’t know. My guess is not many, even in health.
One man’s featherbedding and waste is another’s hard-fought-for pay and conditions. What is most likely to happen is that political parties will compete with each other to inflict ‘pain’ on public servants, resulting in negligible savings and deterioration in services, but throwing morsels to the right-wing commentators. The increase in the pupil/teacher ratio is a recent example.

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4. CMK - May 27, 2009

Alastair, can you explain what this scheme is, please? I’m two years in the PS and I have never heard of it – maybe I’m missing out on a few days leave a year which I could do with?

Well, given the general impotence of all politicians in the face of the economic crisis – someting Casey is explicit about – public servants are the only real area where politicians excercise as close to absolute power as they can have in our reasonable facsimile of a liberal (very small L) democracy.

Seeing that Labour are prepared to kick public servants – a little less harder than the others, granted – they won’t be getting my number 1. I think Gilmore will turn out to be a tremendous disappointment, like Gormley.

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5. alastair - May 27, 2009
6. smiffy - May 27, 2009

CMK,

In the civil service (I don’t know what the position is in the PS more generally), members of staff have two so-called ‘privilege days’ every year. One is on the day after St. Stephens’ Day and the other was originally either the Thursday before or Tuesday after Easter (now the latter can be taken up to 30 days after Easter, to facilitate the opening of offices on the Thursday or Tuesday).

To state that privilege days are something that public servants receive and no one else does suggests that public servants are somehow in receipt of excessive leave allowances. I don’t know what the average allocation is across all jobs, and would be interested to see those figures. I do know that the CO grade is entitled to only the statutory minimum annual leave (excluding the 2 privilege days).

Essentially, all that alastair is proposing is that all civil servants have their leave reduced by 2 days, which strikes me less as a ‘reform’ (which implies some kind of strategic thinking behind it) and more just as spite.

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7. crocodile - May 27, 2009

‘more just as spite.’
As will all ‘reforms’ be if they’re just put in the hands of people with axes to grind. In the Orwellian language of ‘reforms’, if you work for the public service you’re a ‘vested interest’, while if you don’t you’re a reformer. As a public servant myself, I see every day where reforms are needed – and every one of them involves spending more money, not less, and probably employing more people, not fewer.
I think ‘cuts’ is the word they’re looking for.

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8. alastair - May 27, 2009

Essentially, all that alastair is proposing is that all civil servants have their leave reduced by 2 days, which strikes me less as a ‘reform’ (which implies some kind of strategic thinking behind it) and more just as spite.

Pardon?

If it’s a change that bumps up productivity by X man hours a year, without any additional cost or employment implications, then it sure smells like a reform to me – regardless of the complexity of strategy or otherwise.

You’d think some people weren’t open to change.

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9. alastair - May 27, 2009

Oh, and it shouldn’t need saying – but not all civil cervants actually get ‘privilege’ days, so it would be more about a level playing field for all.

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10. smiffy - May 27, 2009

“Pardon?

If it’s a change that bumps up productivity by X man hours a year, without any additional cost or employment implications, then it sure smells like a reform to me – regardless of the complexity of strategy or otherwise.”

So why not just say ‘reduce leave entitlements’ given that that’s what is actually being proposed? Yes, the privilege system is rather anachronistic, but the management side has never been slow to point to those days when the issue of leave entitlements has been raised by the Unions.

“Oh, and it shouldn’t need saying – but not all civil cervants actually get ‘privilege’ days, so it would be more about a level playing field for all.”

Sorry, established civil servants is what I was referring to. If you’re looking for a ‘level playing field’ then surely you should be arguing that everyone should have the same leave allocation regardless of grade/position/etc, no?

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11. alastair - May 27, 2009

So why not just say ‘reduce leave entitlements’ given that that’s what is actually being proposed?

Holidays should either be standard public holidays, or contracted holdays. The notion that there’s an ‘entitlement’ to days off for getting about the country is a non-starter with me, and I suspect most people – and just the sort of reform needed in the public sector.

The kneejerk response to such an obvious instance of where change should be effected is telling though. Anyone who interfaces with public services could probably make a couple of suggestions for improving the quality of service, and improving value-to-investment for all our taxes. And as someone who has worked with various PS bodies over the years, I’m not about to pretend that I’ve not seen wasteful practises that do need reform of the cutting variety – particularly when the money isn’t there to support them.

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12. smiffy - May 27, 2009

“Holidays should either be standard public holidays, or contracted holdays. The notion that there’s an ‘entitlement’ to days off for getting about the country is a non-starter with me, and I suspect most people – and just the sort of reform needed in the public sector.”

These are contracted holidays (certainly that’s the position taken by the Department of Finance whenever they’re been presented with a staff-side claim for an increase in the annual leave allocation). They’re simply holidays which are tied to a particular time of the year.

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13. alastair - May 27, 2009

Then time for both sides in leave negotiations to apply a bit of cop on, eh?

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14. smiffy - May 27, 2009

Well, one possible implication of what you’re arguing is that the ‘privilege days’ should be abolished and replaced with an across the board increase of two days’ standard leave allocation.

Of course, this would actually have a negative impact on overall productivity. The December privilege day is tied to a particular day each year, a day when there would be very little happening in the vast majority of offices anyway. Removing the requirement to take the leave on December 27th would mean that you would have people instead taking a day’s leave at busier times of the year

Is that the kind of ‘reform’ you were after?

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15. WorldbyStorm - May 27, 2009

alastair, I’m intrigued as to whether you have you ever worked in a medium or large scale enterprise in the private sector? I’ve had the dubious benefit of experience working in both for protracted periods of time and the idea that they’re filled with titans of Stakhanovite endeavour, which seems to be implicit to your argument, or even better that they somehow accord to standard public holidays or ‘contracted holidays’ is a bit of a joke.

You will know if you have, as I do to my cost having in part been made redundant due to union activity which focussed on precisely that sort of inequity, that the reality in the private sector is a wide variation, mainly based as far as I can see on length of service and whether one is managerial status (or its equivalent). Now, you could argue that’s fair enough, it’s up to each entity to set its own standards, in which case it is equally reasonable for the public sector to set its own days and for employees etc to negotiate for them. And yet somehow I don’t think that’s your argument.

There are problems in certain areas of the public sector. I note in the SBP about social workers in the adoption field who it is alleged seem to process far fewer applications than they should. But privilege days seem a world away from that, and the idea that they somehow represent an egregious insult to all of us outside the public sector is a bit hard to take.

And frankly, as a socialist, I want to see the private sector employments accord closer to the public sector rather than the other way around. None of this is ‘reform’, what it is is attempting to row back on minor statutory benefits which many in the private sector (at least those closer to the top) enjoy de facto, etc… Shaky ground to be basing any sort of critique on.

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16. WorldbyStorm - May 27, 2009

Incidentally, were you contracted in a company and they cut the holiday entitlement unilaterally from say 22 to 20 (which IIRC is the statutory entitlement) would you consider that ‘reform’? You would in your arse… as would anyone with half a head.

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17. alastair - May 27, 2009

I’ve had the dubious benefit of experience working in both for protracted periods of time and the idea that they’re filled with titans of Stakhanovite endeavour, which seems to be implicit to your argument, or even better that they somehow accord to standard public holidays or ‘contracted holidays’ is a bit of a joke.

Firstly, that’s not implicit to my argument at all.

Secondly – whatever private firms decide to do in relation to their productivity, holidays, working hours etc is their own business until it impacts on me. I’d happily shoot myself off to the moon rather than have to deal with NTL again, but I can wash my hands of the disaster that they unarguably are. I can’t do the same for the public sector, so actually sorting out its failings seems like a better idea.

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18. alastair - May 27, 2009

The December privilege day is tied to a particular day each year, a day when there would be very little happening in the vast majority of offices anyway.

You’re seriously presenting that as an argument?

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19. alastair - May 27, 2009

And frankly, as a socialist, I want to see the private sector employments accord closer to the public sector rather than the other way around. None of this is ‘reform’, what it is is attempting to row back on minor statutory benefits which many in the private sector (at least those closer to the top) enjoy de facto, etc… Shaky ground to be basing any sort of critique on.

What you want, and what you can afford might well be very different things. Reform of patently ridiculous custom and practise like ‘privilege days’ might be a small thing, but it’s retention makes no sense whatsoever – let’s hear where you would propose cost savings in the PS – or is your position that no savings can be made (or are needed)?

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20. WorldbyStorm - May 27, 2009

So in effect you’re not really calling for a standardisation at all, are you? You’re asking that the public sector work within a framework that you won’t apply to the private sector.

I don’t think that’s consistent.

As for the issue of cost… I think it’s frankly absurd to argue that such minimal issues such as those you point to are issue that affect ‘affordability’. Any more, as it happens that I exercise myself overly much that half the managerial levels in various companies I worked for including multinationals both here and in the UK used to vanish on a Friday around mid-day. Or during the week as and when it suited them. My beef there was equity, not that people might get a day (or in their cases many many days) off added to their supposed allowance.

It’s all nonsense anyhow. Flexibility within workplaces appears to deliver much better results than Fordist style rigid structures which you seem so attached to. Productivity is higher in workplaces that adopt such approaches. There’s a raft of literature on this if you’re bothered to look.

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21. smiffy - May 27, 2009

“The December privilege day is tied to a particular day each year, a day when there would be very little happening in the vast majority of offices anyway.

You’re seriously presenting that as an argument?”

About as seriously as presenting ‘privilege days’ as an example of a useful public sector reform. It’s still not clear what your objection to privilege days is. If it’s that civil servants have an excessive leave entitlement, then make that case. If on the other hand, you don’t object to the overall entitlement but have a difficulty with the fact that two of the days are linked to particular times of the year, that’s fine. However, I fail to see how restructuring the leave system to remove privilege days and integrate them into the standard allocation would have any impact on productivity (and the point I was making was simply to demonstrate that what impact it would have would be a negative one).

If, finally, you hold the view that privilege days are some kind of special perk and aren’t actually part of the civil servant’s annual leave allocation, then I’m afraid you just don’t know the basic facts of the situation.

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22. Niall - May 27, 2009

I don’t work for any division of AIB, but for some reason, I find myself owning a small part of them. I’d love to see the removal of any excessive benefits that its employees have, but knowing few people working for the company, and knowing that the terms and conditions differing depending on the division and your position in the company, I don’t know if any significant savings can be made by the removal of benefits.

For this reason, I think I’ll focus my attention on more pressing matters – like its recapitalisation, bad debts, its lending practices and its unorthodox relationships with other parties.

I’d suggest that you take a similar approach to public servants Alastair. We all want to avoid wasting taxpayers’ money, but when we can’t even readily reliably identify the waste element in public sector pay and benefit packages, perhaps we should focus on more fundamental and practical elements of our economy.

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23. CMK - May 27, 2009

Reading over the Indo story about this again, it’s clear that this is just another poorly thought through attempt to lash the public sector. On a par with it’s recent ridiculous healdine about the public sector pay ‘bonanza’ which was anything but.

It’s incontrovertible that, as WBS noted above, flexible working arrangements are better for productivity than rigid, authoritarian and disciplinarian work regimes. The point about the leave arrangements of management in the private sector is apposite too. But higher productivity or no, flexibility is deeply counter intuitive to our authoritarian business culture – which shares more with the religious view of the children in institutions than many trendy business friendly folk would like to admit.

Again it’s a case of be careful what you wish for. I’m utterly certain that were the same critical gaze to be turned to the private sector at all levels then we’d see a deeply problematic picture. One example of the supposed efficiency of the private sector is it’s attitude to maternity leave and pregnancy. I believe the private sector’s approach to this issue provides the Equality Authority with a goodly proportion of it’s work. Having worked in the private sector for nearly 15 years I was always amazed at the ‘disappointment’ managers (men and women) would envince when they had to go through the rigmarole of arranging maternity leave. And I’ve seen female colleagues going through a range of emotions as they worked through with management the ‘issues’. All non-union firms, obviously.

While my partner worked her entire career in the PS and maternity leave was never an issue for her or her colleagues, and in my own brief experience it’s never been an issue for female colleagues and I’ve never seen anyone upset by the attitude of management to it. But that to me shows the dysfunctional attitude one has to cultivate to succeed in a capitalist private sector.

Part of the private sector’s supposed ‘efficiency’ is rooted in deeply anti-human attitudes and practises. As WBS stated above, we’d do well to concentrate on universalising the pay and conditions of public sector workers to all in the private sector. That would be revolutionary and is something that should be a sine qua non for any self-respecting socialist.

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24. Fergal - May 27, 2009

Read an article recently about public holidays in the month of May in France.Apparently,there are three in May,Mayday,World War Two and the Ascenion.When these days fall on a Thursday or Friday workers take an extra day’s holiday to make it into a long weekend(the scoundrels).Anyway,this year there were three long weekends in May.This amounted to 6 days not worked with thousands of businesses not opening.The right were disgusted and bemoaned workers lack of seriousness.For all their huffing and puffing productivity was down the grand figure of 0.4%.(annualised out).All this reminded me of those preaching about public sector reform..why? and what will it really change? apart from attacking people’s working conditions and pay.
CMK is right, how efficient is the private sector?In a way the recession is answering this question and turning some big businesses into “capital” welfare junkies.
WBS excellent point on universalising public sector pay and conditions

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25. Maddog Wilson - May 28, 2009

Alastair
You are directing attention away from the main issue of the economic crisis into a dead end about Public Sector Workers pay and conditions, my family all worked for CIE it was little enough they got. No doubt you would privatise everything.

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26. alastair - May 28, 2009

So in effect you’re not really calling for a standardisation at all, are you? You’re asking that the public sector work within a framework that you won’t apply to the private sector.

I’m calling for a removal of the privilege days because they have no validity in fact, are clearly a perk if some within the civil service get them and others don’t (and let’s be clear – not all who get them would otherwise be on the statutory 20 days). The holidays applicable in the private sector have nothing to do with the validity or otherwise of the retention of dubious custom and practise in the public sector.

The issue to hand is public service reform – if the kneejerk response to any suggestions for areas of obvious reform in the PS is to cry about what’s happening in the private sector, then we’re on a hiding to nothing.

I’d ask again: let’s hear where you would propose cost savings in the PS – or is your position that no savings can be made (or are needed)?

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27. alastair - May 28, 2009

I’d suggest that you take a similar approach to public servants Alastair. We all want to avoid wasting taxpayers’ money, but when we can’t even readily reliably identify the waste element in public sector pay and benefit packages, perhaps we should focus on more fundamental and practical elements of our economy.

Seems like an ideal cop out, tbh. I’d also dispute that there’s much problem in identifying waste in the PS.

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28. alastair - May 28, 2009

Alastair
You are directing attention away from the main issue of the economic crisis into a dead end about Public Sector Workers pay and conditions, my family all worked for CIE it was little enough they got. No doubt you would privatise everything.

I take it that you’re one of those ‘nothing to see here’ advocates in relation to the public sector then? The topic to hand is public sector reform – nothing else. And thanks for telling me what I’d like to see privatised – you clearly know me better then myself.

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29. WorldbyStorm - May 28, 2009

There’s nothing ‘dubious’ about it. That’s only your projection onto it. It was, incidentally you who talked of standardisation, which implicitly seemed to be with supposed ‘norms’. A reasonable interpretation of that was that you meant the private sector… As for it being a ‘reform’, I can’t for the life of me see how. There’s nothing knee jerk about considering that privilege days have little or nothing to do with ‘reform’. As regards cost savings? In terms of overall wage bills, probably not, in terms of expenses etc, probably yes.

I should add two Depts. with which I work have already informed staff at certain levels that overtime payments are gone and time in lieu is where its at. I’m not gone on that solution at all, or at least not totally. Since – as we know – public sector wages were traditionally low, its hardly surprising that the govt. would at some point try to supplement them with more time off (but two days, at Christmas, for Gods sake?). Then their wages moved up, and now as we know their wages are going back down again. Swings and roundabouts.

I’m still intrigued as to your experience of the private sector (and the public sector too, working with at certain levels is far from having a clear picture of general day to day conditions).

Talking about the private sector. One Franco German company I worked for used to allow cigarette breaks to staff in addition to other breaks. A number of us embittered by then non-smokers (converts being the worst) worked out that from a 40 odd hour week those bastards [ 🙂 ] were getting away with perhaps a couple of hours a week, if not more. And across a year – sheesh! Which was true, but so what? Production levels and sales kept rising, somehow, in spite of this egregious ‘perk’. I could spend my time being exercised by that of I could go and get another cup of coffee, as my embittered colleagues did likewise.

You’ll have to do a lot more to convince me that it’s your response which isn’t the knee jerk anti-public sector one. Which BTW for the life of me I can’t understand why you’re so obsessed about them in this way… did a band of marauding CO’s trash your place some years back?

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30. alastair - May 28, 2009

How is it not dubious – the rationale for the days off have no validity anymore!

I’m talking about standardisation in negotiating holidays in the public sector – the notion that there’s a case for difficulty of travel for civil servant A, but not B is not a legitimate basis for any sort of contract.

Not a reform? If there was a normal approach to holidays than the public services that were closed this (and every other year) post-easter time would have been open and operating – bringing additional public service (and value for investment) to the general public. Closed FAS offices on working days are not a model I can stand over – how about you?

Let’s hear where you would propose cost savings in the PS – or is your position that no savings can be made (or are needed)?

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31. WorldbyStorm - May 28, 2009

Already partially addressed savings in revised post above. By the way, the public sector isn’t an undifferentiated whole. It’s a collection of different entities with different histories, actually not dissimilar to the education sector. If you’re arguing about offices being open post-Easter you’ll get no quibble from me, but that’s a completely different issues, one of time management, to privilege days.

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32. alastair - May 28, 2009

Production levels and sales kept rising, somehow, in spite of this egregious ‘perk’.

Maybe so, but closed offices on working days hardly promote increased productivity.

I love the notion that pointing out an obviously poor point of practise in the public sector is ‘knee jerk anti-public sector’. If ‘when did you stop beating your wife’ is the attitude to take to any criticism of something that are all stakeholders in, and which is subject to the same economic pressures as every other activity, and needs to respond in kind.

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33. alastair - May 28, 2009

that’s a completely different issues, one of time management, to privilege days.

It’s the direct consequence of privilege days! Wouldn’t happen without them.

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34. CMK - May 28, 2009

One clear area where the PS could save money would be bring back a lot of those functions out-sourced to the private sector back in-house. The closure of the NSAI testing facilities – at the instigation of Mary Harney – to allow private companies conduct this business, is one such example.

Another, terminate the contracts of all management consultants immediately today. Advise all the accountancy and legal firms doing government business that their fees are being cut by 20% from today. Tell the advertising industry that they going to have a very frugal few years ahead – cut fees to advertising agencies stringently. They’ll bawl and sulk and threaten that best brains will leave etc, etc, blah, blah, but, in the end, they’ll knuckle down and accept.

Another area: refuse to accept cost overruns from state funded construction projects. Advise contractors that a 20% overrun is acceptable, anything over that and they’ll have to fund it themselves. If they can’t the state takes over their company.

Let’s see a couple more areas where the state could make drastic savings: buy generic pharmaceuticals. There’s not point in paying big pharma over the odds for aspirin and basic drugs that could be bought from an Indian or Brazilian company for a fraction of the price. Advise big pharma that the state is imposing a 20% cut in what it’s willing to pay. A lot of these companies have such profit margins that they’ll be able to take the pain.

Another area where savings could be made: get PS procurement managers to drive the hardest bargain possible with private sector contractors. This is one area where is the PS took the same tack as the private sector that a lot of savings could be made.

There is a lot of scope for savings in the PS, that doesn’t involve further pay cuts or redundancies. All of the above could be implemented if the state were willing to be imaginative and to face down the inevitable lobbying by the private sector if such measures were mooted.

The above would also send a strong political signal about how ‘pain’ is going to be shared.

Of course, none of the above will be even remotely considered in any seriousness and savings will made on the backs of and at the expense of workers in both private and public sector.

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35. alastair - May 28, 2009

Already partially addressed savings in revised post above

Where’s that then?

As I’m sure you’re aware – I understand perfectly the broad scope and nature of the public sector. That doesn’t really need to be said. Likewise I’m not claiming that waste and poor practise don’t exist in the private sector – it obviously does – I’ve been in the boardrooms of financial organisations and telcos and seen it at first hand – but I’ve also seen it in the public sector, in NGO’s and in one Union (probably the worst offender on every front, for what its worth).

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36. alastair - May 28, 2009

One clear area where the PS could save money would be bring back a lot of those functions out-sourced to the private sector back in-house.

Agreed, certainly in the case of pap smear tests being flown off to the US, incurring lengthy delays in delivering results, and the loss of local jobs and expertise in the area.

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37. alastair - May 28, 2009

Tell the advertising industry that they going to have a very frugal few years ahead

The advertising business never relied that heavily on state-generated work in the first place. The design sector has done more so, but I can assure you – the work has dried up – no need to tell anyone in that game that there’s frugal times already here.

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38. smiffy - May 28, 2009

“I love the notion that pointing out an obviously poor point of practise in the public sector is ‘knee jerk anti-public sector’”.

It’s only “obviously poor point of practise in the public sector” if you aren’t acquainted with the basic facts, which you clearly aren’t. Whether you like it or not, the so-called privilege days are part of the leave allocation for established civil servants, and have been cited on numerous occasions by management in response to staff-side claims for an increase in the standard leave allocation. The issue of travel is no longer relevant.

If you were proposing that scrap the privilege days and increase the standard allowance accordingly, that would be one thing and worth considering (I don’t know of many who would object to it). What you’re actually proposing, however, is simply a straightforward decrease in the leave allocation of established civil servants, tarted up in the language of ‘reform’.

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39. alastair - May 28, 2009

Holidays should be holidays – that a redundant travel day is still custom and practise is no argument for it’s continuation. If you think that basic civil service holiday entitlement should be 22 days, then that should be negotiated into contact of service.

It’s obviously poor practice if the consequence is that public services are curtailed on a working day, where there’s demand for those services.

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40. smiffy - May 28, 2009

“Holidays should be holidays – that a redundant travel day is still custom and practise is no argument for it’s continuation. If you think that basic civil service holiday entitlement should be 22 days, then that should be negotiated into contact of service.”

It’s already in the contract of service, of which D/Finance circulars form a part.

“It’s obviously poor practice if the consequence is that public services are curtailed on a working day, where there’s demand for those services.”

I’d be interested to know the full extent of office closures around Easter. I certainly know that the majority of offices are open, as staff have some flexibility around when that leave day is taken.

What do you think the impact on overall productivity would be if the Christmas privilege day was abolished and staff were able to take an extra day’s leave at any point throughout the year, rather than having to take it on 27th December? I think it would be marginal in any case, but negatively so.

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41. alastair - May 28, 2009

It’s already in the contract of service, of which D/Finance circulars form a part.

It’s not a holiday in the contract though – is it? (rhetorical q – I’m aware that it’s not)
If it’s actually a holiday, let’s call such and treat it like any other holiday.

Those days are working days. There shouldn’t be any excuse for shutting down services on the back of a notional difficulty in travelling. Abolishing privilege days and rostering ‘regular’ holidays so that office are open for business on every working day would clearly be an improvement in practise.

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42. smiffy - May 28, 2009

“If it’s actually a holiday, let’s call such and treat it like any other holiday.”

Fine, but I don’t think it would make a huge amount of difference. Do you know the extent to which offices were closed around Easter? As for the Christmas day, again, no problem with opening offices (provided that the level of leave for civil servants remained unchanged) but the level of office closures over the Christmas period in the private sector might give some indication of the level of demand for services at that time.

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43. CMK - May 28, 2009

Alastair, I think it’s revealing that you are insisting on pressing the issue with the privilege days (in essence a non-issue) while not engaging with the points about where really significant cuts could be made in public sector expenditure.

I think that by doing so you’re lending support to the view that you are indeed engaged in ‘knee jerk anti-public sector’ sentiment.

From my perch in the PS I can see that quite a lot of ‘waste’ is not to be found in salaries, pensions and conditions. Rather it’s in the extent to which the PS really rolls over for private contractors and moddlycoddles them. Added to that you have a raft of agreements where the state is being screwed for huge amounts of cash, but which are protected by ‘commerical confidentiality’ clauses enforced by agressive and parasitical big law firms (who benefit both from drafting these agreements and from any subsequent litigation). The media are too lazy or scared to poke around this mess and so take the easy option of running ridiculous stories, like the one you linked to, about the public sector which a first year journalism student would be ashamed to submit as an assignment.

While the government – who are categorically NOT the public sector – are, it has to be said, beholden to very powerful private interests who have made, are making and want to continue to make fortunes from public contracts. That’s where the waste is in the public sector. Not in a few privilege days which, as has been pointed out here several times, part of the agreed leave entitlement of some, not all, civil servants.

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44. alastair - May 28, 2009

Alastair, I think it’s revealing that you are insisting on pressing the issue with the privilege days (in essence a non-issue) while not engaging with the points about where really significant cuts could be made in public sector expenditure.

I think that by doing so you’re lending support to the view that you are indeed engaged in ‘knee jerk anti-public sector’ sentiment.

Well – this says quite a bit for those tunnel vision specs you’ve got on.

When I say Reform of patently ridiculous custom and practise like ‘privilege days’ might be a small thing, but it’s retention makes no sense whatsoever, I guess I’m sayiong something completely different, and ignoring all the other possible areas for reform?

Now – do you tnink there’s no need for reform in relation to ‘privilege days’? Because all I’ve stated is that there is. The rest of the ‘anti-public sector’ tarbrush is nothing to do with me, or my point.

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45. CMK - May 28, 2009

I don’t have tunnel vision specs on, thank you very much. Just a sense of proportion.

My point is, which you’ve only partially engaged with, that waste in the public sector could be reduced and cuts made without further compromising worker’s pay or terms and conditions. Much of this waste benefits powerful private interests who are far more influential on government practice and policy than public sector trade unions who are pussycats in comparison to the sociopathic lions of private interest.

I don’t see why as a private citizen and a public sector worker I should be more concerned about privilege days than the debasing of the public sector for private ends.

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46. alastair - May 28, 2009

So, with all sense of proportion, do you agree that there’s need for reform of the ‘privilege days’ practise? because you don’t seem prepared to engage with that matter at all.

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47. smiffy - May 28, 2009

“So, with all sense of proportion, do you agree that there’s need for reform of the ‘privilege days’ practise? because you don’t seem prepared to engage with that matter at all.”

Frankly, neither you do. You’re clinging to a flawed understanding of the system with your constant references to the notional difficulty in travelling, which is no longer the basis of the leave. Similarly, you haven’t even attempted to quantify the current effect on service provision of privilege days and how your proposal would impact on that.

And that’s the problem with so much of this talk about public-sector reform. It often originates in a profound ignorance of the facts of the situation and isn’t based on any kind of strategic approach to reform.

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48. alastair - May 28, 2009

Well lets take the closure of every FAS office on April 14th – a day when everyone else is working as normal, and we can suppose that there’s as much demand for FAS services as any other working day – You think that some outdated custom and practise overrides the needs of those people? You think they care about any ‘flawed understanding of the system’?

Like I say – You’d think some people weren’t open to change. ‘Stategic approach’ my arse – if you can’t bring yourself to point at such an obviously screwed up system, and admit that it needs changing, you’re more a man for avoiding change than engaging with it.

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49. alastair - May 28, 2009

Oh, and I’d love to hear what the new ‘basis’ for ‘privilege days’ is then?

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50. WorldbyStorm - May 28, 2009

Ah, a bracing airing of views…

alastair, you seem to think that what you believe is reform is the unquestionable definition of reform. As you’ll see I, and others, beg to differ. What you’ve done is then when your proposal isn’t considered that useful to accuse us of knee-jerk responses. I’m not a PS worker, and those who are have actually offered reasons as to why your approach (which let’s be clear is becoming an increasingly narrowly focused obsession on privilege days) is incorrect on this issue, as it is I don’t have a stake in this one way or another.

The consensus though is that while people aren’t against privilege days being incorporated into holiday leave, i.e. detaching them from the BH’s they’re banged up against, they are, quite reasonably against them being cut entirely. You’re asking for reform. There’s your reform. There’s your openess to change and an avoidance of knee-jerk reaction. If that’s not good enough then you’re not really looking for reform, are you, you’re looking to penalise people.

There’s a broader issue here as regards standardisation. The public sector is made up of many different entities. They’re of a very different type. An art gallery isn’t identical to the Department of Agriculture. Fás has a very different profile to ESBI. Air traffic controllers do fundamentally different work to EOs… etc. They all have indigenous cultures in terms of work practices, management practices etc. To suddenly attempt to apply a one size fits all approach in the name of standardisation is pointless, and arguably unjust.

This is, as Michael Casey noted, going to take a considerable length of time, and in reality may never be completed.

CMK has suggested means of implementing reforms. Some will cut costs, others will incur them.

I’d add some more. I agree with you that flexible working hours should be more clearly an element of the process, particularly where the PS meets the public. How that works in practice is problematic. If those hours continue after ‘normal’ working hours yet again one is hit by having to pay increased wages or make some sort of overtime/time in lieu provision that could prove costly.

Tendering and procurement of equipment should be allocated to a specific body within the PS that would work across Departments and entities. One thing that has staggered me in my experience is just how much waste there was in terms of acquisition of overly specced equipment that is entirely inappropriate for the tasks at hand and where alternatives costing much less could be brought in. Following on from that I think that internal expertise in terms of dealing with consultants to ensure that they are providing reasonable rather than inflated quotations and specifications is necessary. This is difficult, one only has to look at the UK where vast quantities were wasted on computer systems that were entirely inadequate for the task allocated them to see that even a mature PS like that of the UK can fall down.

A close friend of mine works in a certain area of the civil service in a technical area and has observed how time and again consultants and others have run rings around non-tech civil servants. That’s improving but slowly.

Internal expenses could certainly be cut. For example one of the areas I liaise with has training sessions. On these vouchers were handed out for lunches. The logic of this escapes me since the training sessions were on the same campus as the usual workday.

What strikes me though is that you’ve constructed in your own mind a picture of an antagonistic public sector workforce unwilling to change or be flexible (which is proven incorrect by the points made above in response to you). What’s more you seem to be keen to impose cutbacks and restrictions with little or no thought as to whether these make any sense in terms of delivering a truly flexible public sector – do PS offices have to be open on the 27th, is that really an issue?

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51. Crocodile - May 29, 2009

There’s a glass bus shelter round the corner from me that is in a million fragments every Sunday. Maybe someone is drunk, misses the last bus and kicks it in frustration. Maybe someone just wants something to smash. When you’re angry and frustrated, you’ll kick whatever’s nearest to hand that can’t kick back.
But some rainy day you’ll need that bus shelter.

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52. Leveller on the Liffey - May 29, 2009

I work with Dublin City Council employees and, in the interests of effectiveness, efficiency and community service, they are flexible, co-operative and innovative (i.e. open to ‘reform’) – with the few exceptions that you would find in any walk of life.

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53. WorldbyStorm - May 29, 2009

I’m also aware from similar encounters of the pressures the public end of the PS works under. Now, part of that may be poor time management on the part of managers, but for individual workers it can be very difficult.

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54. alastair - May 29, 2009

What strikes me though is that you’ve constructed in your own mind a picture of an antagonistic public sector workforce unwilling to change or be flexible (which is proven incorrect by the points made above in response to you).

There’s a glass bus shelter round the corner from me that is in a million fragments every Sunday. Maybe someone is drunk, misses the last bus and kicks it in frustration. Maybe someone just wants something to smash. When you’re angry and frustrated, you’ll kick whatever’s nearest to hand that can’t kick back.
But some rainy day you’ll need that bus shelter.

Let’s pile on the bullshit and avoid the real issue then, eh?

Let’s review.

WBS – you come closest to acknowledging that the privilege days’ system is inherently flawed – and yet you begrudge agreeing that it’s in need of reform (and not one other comment gets anywhere near that half-hearted admission). All the distraction of air traffic controllers etc isn’t going to remove from the fact that no-one in this thread has had the honesty to say – “Yes – that practise is simply wrong, and needs changing”. A small, but obvious need for PS reform is raised and all of a sudden I’m ‘Anti- Public Sector’. Now that speaks for some pretty jerked knees, but also the lack of openess to any reform that might be for the better, but also steps on the toes of current custom and practise.

You criticise me for a narrow definition of reform (despite my clear message that this was a small issue, but one clearly in need of reform), and yet you repeatedly refuse to answer a simple question: Let’s hear where you would propose cost savings in the PS – or is your position that no savings can be made (or are needed)?
This isn’t a narrow, or small matter. I’m open about my position – cost savings (above and beyond what’s already been put in place) are needed as long as the current economic conditions continue. That doesn’t make me ‘Anti- Public Sector’, it means that I hold to the basic concept of ‘you cut the cloth to fit the suit’. Any notion that the PS is immune from economic realities (or that the existing cutbacks are sufficient) simply doesn’t wash with me. You’ll find no greater supporter of Public Services than myself, so lets not pretend my opinion is derived from some animositity towards public sector workers or ‘right wing’ ideology.

All in all – it’s like drawing teeth around here when you suggest there’s something wrong with this picture.

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55. Crocodile - May 29, 2009

Right, Alastair, I was being flippant talking about bus shelters, but what I was getting at was this:
A visitor from outer space would think, if he read our national newspapers, that a terrible thing had happened in Ireland over the last couple of years. The collapse of property prices? The massive crimes of the banking community? No – the resistance to ‘reform’ of the public service.
For whatever reason, perhaps a feeling of impotence- that nothing can be done about financial crime except pour more and more citizens’ money into it, our commentariat has decided that spending less on public services is the key. As WbyS has pointed out a hundred times, that would punish the guiltless, reduce services and save hardly any money (further deflation of the economy) but it would give the visceral satisfaction of hammering people who, because of job tenure and pensions, are perceived to be better off.
Hence the bus shelter analogy.And only a fool would deny that there are savings to be made in organisations as big as the public service. The point is the prioritisation of that issue. Reform of the public service is, I’d say, about fifth in order of the things we should be doing to re-start growth, but to read the papers you’d think it was priority number one. That’s because the right has always wanted to curb social provision anyway and sees a massive opportunity in our current straits. Was it the Greeks who used a goat?

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56. CMK - May 29, 2009

Alastair writes: Any notion that the PS is immune from economic realities (or that the existing cutbacks are sufficient) simply doesn’t wash with me.

This is the same economic reality that sees the government cut PS wages through the pension levy to achieve a 2bn euro saving based on immediately obsolete economic analysis earlier this year, while announcing just today that it would be putting in 4bn euro to subsidise what will be shown to have been a vast criminal conspiracy in the Anglo-Irish bank?http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2009/0529/breaking30.htm

That’s 11 BILLION EURO!!! that the state has handed out since last September to the private sector, that is the banks. By my calculations – admittedly on the back of an envelope – 11bn is near to the full nett cost of public sector pay to the exchequer for one year.

And, as was pointed out by John Lancaster in a recent London Review of Books essay, banks will keep any money they get from state re-capitalisation efforts. The notion that state money used to recapitalise the banks will be then be lent to struggling businesses – and that is the ideological camoflage for re-capitalistion – is far from the mark. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n10/lanc01_.html

So, in that context trying to manufacture outrage over privilege days, while professing bona fides towards the PS, is asking a lot of reasonable people. Context is everything.

Like any structure reforms are necessary in the PS. But the reforms that those who value the PS and who want to enhance its effectiveness will typically be a world away, no make a universe away from the ‘reforms’ FG, PDs and the commentariat have in mind.

There are problems in the PS that need resolving. But there’s no hope in hell that I’m going to entertain critiques of the PS while the political and media consensus in this state are sharpening the butcher’s knives. I think what’s clear is that many public servants are prepared for a scorched earth defence of their entitlements and privileges as a direct consequence of the unfairness they’ve been subjected to so far.

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57. smiffy - May 29, 2009

“WBS – you come closest to acknowledging that the privilege days’ system is inherently flawed – and yet you begrudge agreeing that it’s in need of reform (and not one other comment gets anywhere near that half-hearted admission). ”

That’s simply not true. Not a single person here has argued that government offices should be closed around Easter and would hope that you might be able to advise us of the extent of such closures (given you’re so exercised by them). Similarly, the point about closures around Christmas is reasonable, but hardly compelling. The system is a little anachronistic and could be updated, but I fail to see how it’s ‘inherently flawed’.

Perhaps you might inform us, as clearly as possible, what, in your view, the actual impact of amending the privilege day system would be on civil service productivity?

The simple fact is that privilege days are part of civil servants’ annual leave entitlements. The vast majority of civil servants would be perfectly happy not to be tied to having to take them on particular dates. However, it’s perfectly reasonable for them to resist annual leave being deducted from them when it’s based on arguments about ‘reform’ from people – like you – who don’t know what they’re talking about in the first place.

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58. Garibaldy - May 29, 2009

No point ,e writing that article based on Lanacster’s thing now then CMK eh? 🙂

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59. Damian O'Broin - May 30, 2009

Looks like Alastair is proving to be a highly influential figure in Irish political circles – Irish Times today: ‘Civil Servants could lose their privilege days’.

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60. Damian O'Broin - May 30, 2009

In seriousness, I think the problem here is one of presentation and perception more than anything.

There is a stong and widely believed narrative out there that civil and public servants are on a cushy number with excessive breaks and a lacksadaisical attitude to the hard graft. The privilege days feeds this narrative. As does the half hour off to allow them to cash their cheques.

The simplest thing to do in fold the privilege days up into the annual holiday entitlement. Although I assume the government’s plan is to use it as a way to reduce overall leave entitlements.

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61. alastair - May 30, 2009

There are problems in the PS that need resolving. But there’s no hope in hell that I’m going to entertain critiques of the PS while the political and media consensus in this state are sharpening the butcher’s knives.

That’s one attitude I guess. But a petulant one completely lacking merit.

And last I heard, sorting out our economy wasn’t an ‘either, or’ affair.

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62. alastair - May 30, 2009

The system is a little anachronistic and could be updated, but I fail to see how it’s ‘inherently flawed’.

Maybe something to do with closing offices and removing services on working days? That seems like a pretty unambiguous inherent flaw to me.

people – like you – who don’t know what they’re talking about in the first place.

Riight. Because I’m wrong on which particular aspect of this issue…?

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63. Niall - May 30, 2009

“Maybe something to do with closing offices and removing services on working days? That seems like a pretty unambiguous inherent flaw to me.”

Okay, so let us say that the privilege days are folded into individuals’ annual leave and the offices are opened on days on the working days that they’re currently closed for. Will this transform the public sector?
How much money, if any, would this move save? Would this end calls for public sector reform?

Privilege days seem like such a minor flaw to me that I can’t really see why, if the public sector is so fatally flawed, people would choose to focus on the issue. If issues like those mentioned above are the most pressing issues to be tackled, then I hope that public sector reform is not high on the government’s list of priorities.

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64. alastair - May 30, 2009

Talk about straw man central!

Nope – sorting out this ridiculous practice (and indeed the cheque lodgment half hour) won’t transform the public sector – does that mean that it’s an unwarranted reform? No idea how much money it might save, but at least it’ll mean less aggravated FAS punters a couple if days a year, and an improvement on public service.

The public sector isn’t ‘fatally flawed’ – if it was it wouldn’t operate at all. It is however flawed to some degree, and will benefit from change in a number of areas. Some of those will save money (sorely needed for the beneficial aspects of public service), and some will just (hopefully) improve quality of service.

Can we put to bed the notion that there’s a small number of system-fiddlers, tasked with turning the country around, who have the choice of public sector reform on one hand, or sorting out the haemorrhage of money going into rescuing the banking sector on the other? This isn’t an A or B type scenario. Like Mr Tesco says “every little helps”.

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65. Niall - May 30, 2009

“Like Mr Tesco says “every little helps.”

Nobody would deny this. But some, such as the Irish Times writers that have been mentioned here, Sindo writers in general and the likes of Matt Cooper, place undue emphasis on public sector “reform” at the expense of other more important issues, including the inadequate funding of many public services. These people talk as though public sector reform is not a “little” thing that might “help” but that if we could just fix the public service (and where they say fix, they seem to mean large scale job and pay cuts) then our economic outlook would immediately change for the better.

It was not guards, teachers, nurses, students or clerical officers who got us into this mess, yet these are the people that are picked upon to the benefit of bankers, property developers, politicians and all of those other people who would have been at home in the Galway races tent. A little perspective would go a long way.

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66. smiffy - May 31, 2009

“Maybe something to do with closing offices and removing services on working days? That seems like a pretty unambiguous inherent flaw to me.”

Straight question for you: How many offices are closed at Easter?

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67. alastair - May 31, 2009

Every FAS office and training centre closed two working days a year. A bunch of other departments just running on a caretaker basis for those two days.

I thought I was supposed to be the one who ‘didn’t know what they’re talking about’? You also neglected to let us know what the new ‘basis’ for ‘privilege days’ is. Bit strange that, given that you didn’t like being reminded about the original, and redundant rationale for those days.

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68. smiffy - May 31, 2009

“A bunch of other departments just running on a caretaker basis for those two days.”

Which two days?

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69. alastair - May 31, 2009

April 14th and December 27th.

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70. smiffy - May 31, 2009

Why would Departments be running on a ‘caretaker’ basis on April 14th, rather than April 9th?

Similarly, if the privilege day system was abolished would you expect Departments to run on anything other than a caretaker basis on December 27th, and do you think it’s reasonable to expect that?

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71. Garibaldy - May 31, 2009

I’d hardly describe December 27th as a normal working day by any stretch of the imagination.

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72. alastair - May 31, 2009

Why would Departments be running on a ‘caretaker’ basis on April 14th, rather than April 9th?

Because in days of yore there was difficulty in travelling back to work post public holidays, hence ‘privilege days’, obe being the tuesday after the easter holiday weekend. Do try and keep up.

I’d hardly describe December 27th as a normal working day by any stretch of the imagination.

Dec 27th is a regular working day. Maybe you take a holiday on that day, but plenty don’t.

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73. Garibaldy - May 31, 2009

It clearly isn’t because a very large number of people – if not the majority – are off work that day.

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74. alastair - May 31, 2009

Actually it clearly is – are you claiming it’s a public holiday?

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75. Garibaldy - May 31, 2009

The phrase I used was normal. As in typical of every other working day. A day which sees schools, universities, and lots of small shops, companies, and businesses closed is clearly not normal.

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76. alastair - May 31, 2009

Nevertheless, it’s not a holiday – it’s a working day. School and universities close for lots of working days. People have the option of a discretionary holiday on the 27th – but that’s a holiday from a working day.

Perfectly acceptable to roster for demand, absolutely daft to shut up shop on working days.

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77. Garibaldy - May 31, 2009

Schools and universities do indeed close a lot of days, which is why I mentioned the other companies. If your point is that they should be open according to demand, then I suspect that the economics of opening of December 27th are not worth it as demand would almost certainly be very low if not non-existent.

None of which means that there aren’t problems with the public sector in the south, but they are greatest and the top, and not the bottom. The southern state is – to paraphrase the famous anti-imperialist J.A. Hobson – a vast system of outdoor relief for the professional classes. Be it tribunal lawyers, over-paid politicians, double-lobbing consultants or whatever. Start here, not with the day after boxing day.

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78. smiffy - May 31, 2009

“Why would Departments be running on a ‘caretaker’ basis on April 14th, rather than April 9th?

Because in days of yore there was difficulty in travelling back to work post public holidays, hence ‘privilege days’, obe being the tuesday after the easter holiday weekend. Do try and keep up.”

Except that the Tuesday after the Easter holiday weekend isn’t the Easter privilege day, is it?

“Nevertheless, it’s not a holiday – it’s a working day. School and universities close for lots of working days. People have the option of a discretionary holiday on the 27th – but that’s a holiday from a working day.

Perfectly acceptable to roster for demand, absolutely daft to shut up shop on working days.”

You’ve already said that they were run on a caretaker basis on that day, rather than shut down. You seem to be suggesting that even a ‘caretaker basis’ isn’t acceptable to you. You obviously don’t know how the privilege day system actually works in practice at present.

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79. alastair - May 31, 2009

Except that the Tuesday after the Easter holiday weekend isn’t the Easter privilege day, is it?

It certainly was this year. And guess what – it is every other year too!

You’ve already said that they were run on a caretaker basis on that day, rather than shut down

Except where I said they did shut down eh? What was I saying about kneejerk responses again? You’re either being intentionally obtuse, or have serious problems with written comprehension.

You obviously don’t know how the privilege day system actually works in practice at present.

Quite the contrary, I’d have said. Now, will you take a break from tripping over yourself and let us know what’s the ‘new’ basis for ‘privilege days’?

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80. smiffy - May 31, 2009

“Except that the Tuesday after the Easter holiday weekend isn’t the Easter privilege day, is it?

It certainly was this year. And guess what – it is every other year too!”

Incorrect.

“Except where I said they did shut down eh? What was I saying about kneejerk responses again? You’re either being intentionally obtuse, or have serious problems with written comprehension.”

You said “shut up up”, which implies closed, rather than being run on a caretaker basis.

“Now, will you take a break from tripping over yourself and let us know what’s the ‘new’ basis for ‘privilege days’?”

I told you earlier. It’s in lieu of previously sought increases in the annual leave allocation.

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81. WorldbyStorm - May 31, 2009

alastair- smiffy, who appears out of all the people here who work in or with the PS to be the only one to actually understand the concept of privilege days fully has already explained that your understanding of the term is incorrect and that however their allocation in terms of other holidays they are counted by a workers employer as annual leave. This fundamentally undercuts your initial argument that these should be cut as some sort of ‘reform’ – not least since leave varies in both Private and Public sectors.

I and others, including smiffy… – as when he says:

If you were proposing that scrap the privilege days and increase the standard allowance accordingly, that would be one thing and worth considering (I don’t know of many who would object to it). What you’re actually proposing, however, is simply a straightforward decrease in the leave allocation of established civil servants, tarted up in the language of ‘reform’.

….explicitly demonstrate that we’re open to reworking of those two days in terms of being more flexible.

Given those two salient points, what precisely is your problem at this stage?

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82. Hugh Green - May 31, 2009

I work in the private sector and have two ‘privilege days’ a year. One to be taken in Christmas week and another in and around Easter week. Am I bovvered at public sector workers having a similar ‘privilege’? Nope. In fact, I would prefer they continued to enjoy the same ‘privilege’ since its removal makes it more likely that I lose mine. At the same time, would losing mine make me more productive over the course of the year? Would it hell, because tarting up a couple of days’ leave as ‘privilege’ makes me feel special and wanted. Take it away from me and I might get all resentful and demarcative, if such a word exists.

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83. alastair - May 31, 2009

Given those two salient points, what precisely is your problem at this stage?

Smiffy clearly doesn’t know his arse from his elbow in relation to ‘privilege days’, if he’s unaware what days are involved (as he’s spelled out clearly), the impact in terms of office closures (which he’s demonstrated), and is seemingly intent on underplaying the reality of that practise – reduced public service capacity. He’s also strangely unwilling to actually pronounce on the ‘new’ basis that ‘privilege days’ are continued on, now that the original rationale is long redundant.

You’ll have to colour me unimpressed with the insights he’s collected in whatever branch of public service he works for.

That he, and you still don’t admit an obvious need for a reform in the practise as it stands would pose a problem for me. Smacks of that kneejerkery I mentioned. Anybody prepared to stand up for cheque lodgement half hours while they prevaricate over axing ‘privilege days’?

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84. alastair - May 31, 2009

If anyone’s interested in the actual impact (and learning that a flexible holiday allowance was turned down by civil servants in at least one department in preference for a continuation of ‘privilege days’) then have a listen to the RTE Liveline podcast from this April 14th (the privilege day that shuts down all FAS offices).

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85. smiffy - May 31, 2009

“Smiffy clearly doesn’t know his arse from his elbow in relation to ‘privilege days’, if he’s unaware what days are involved (as he’s spelled out clearly)”

The Easter privilege day in the civil service can be taken on either the Thursday before or Tuesday after the weekend or, indeed, up to 30 days afterward, precisely in order to reduce the impact of service delivery.

Given your lack of familiarity with the basic facts about privilege days, you’ll have to forgive me if I treat you calls for ‘reform’ of the system (which, incidentally, you haven’t specified) with the disdain they deserve.

“He’s also strangely unwilling to actually pronounce on the ‘new’ basis that ‘privilege days’ are continued on, now that the original rationale is long redundant.”

It’s in my last comment, genius. Learn to read.

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86. alastair - May 31, 2009

It’s in my last comment, genius. Learn to read.

Nope – that’s not a basis for continuation of the privilege days at all. ‘It’s there because it’s there’ isn’t anything other than stating the facts on the ground.

The Easter privilege day in the civil service can be taken on either the Thursday before or Tuesday after the weekend or, indeed, up to 30 days afterward, precisely in order to reduce the impact of service delivery.

Obviously not in FAS though eh? I guess you’re still not prepared to acknowledge they close up shop entirely for two days a year? Strange that.

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87. WorldbyStorm - May 31, 2009

alastair, that’s a neat little sidestepping of my question.

Whether one department or another turned it down doesn’t detract from the *fact* that on this site both myself and smiffy have argued that there would be reason to examine folding days in to a more flexible situation (incidentally, and not to labour the point, you didn’t call for that initially, you argued for cutting those days – perhaps you too were unaware that they count as annual leave. Perhaps not. Who can tell? After all allegations of our ‘knee jerkery’ from someone basing their critique on articles in the Independent aren’t exactly plausible, now are they?).

Your position seems to be one where you’re getting increasingly agitated by something neither smiffy, nor CMK, nor indeed myself have actually said or done.

Which is curious.

The RTÉ piece? I note that the civil servants interviewed sounded far from unwilling to be flexible, that services were covered by the civil service and that only in certain areas was a public service not provided. The guy talking about 1.6 days for the public sector even if we took him at his word equalled 19 days plus 2 privilege days amounts to 21 days in total. Which erm… is equal to or less than the private sector.

All told I still don’t see your gripe if everyone here is willing to be flexible…

Oh yeah, I note that a PS worker stated, as I have above, that overtime and time in lieu are gone.

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88. smiffy - May 31, 2009

“Nope – that’s not a basis for continuation of the privilege days at all. ‘It’s there because it’s there’ isn’t anything other than stating the facts on the ground.”

The answer wasn’t ‘It’s there because it’s there’. The answer was that the management argument against increasing annual leave was that the privilege days already existed (and, frankly, it suits management better to keep it that way because if you don’t take a privilege day it can’t be carried over into a subsequent leave year).

If you’re going to talk about ‘reforming’ the system, this is a fundamental issue which has to be acknowledged, and not simply ignored, as you seem to prefer. Still, you’re clearly ignorant of the facts when it comes to this subject, and you haven’t actually proposed any specific reform (other than your initial knee-jerk comments), so there’s no reason why we should take you seriously, is there?

“The Easter privilege day in the civil service can be taken on either the Thursday before or Tuesday after the weekend or, indeed, up to 30 days afterward, precisely in order to reduce the impact of service delivery.

Obviously not in FAS though eh? I guess you’re still not prepared to acknowledge they close up shop entirely for two days a year? Strange that.”

At the start I made it clear that I was referring to the civil service only, rather than the public service more generally (including FAS). Didn’t or couldn’t you read that?

I take it, though, that you’re conceding the point about your ignorance in relation to the privilege day system overall, and are referring solely to FAS.

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89. alastair - May 31, 2009

(incidentally, and not to labour the point, you didn’t call for that initially, you argued for cutting those days – perhaps you too were unaware that they count as annual leave. Perhaps not. Who can tell? After all allegations of our ‘knee jerkery’ from someone basing their critique on articles in the Independent aren’t exactly plausible, now are they?).

I called for an acknowledgment that those were working days, and renegotiation of contracts to include only work days and holidays. This with dismissed as nothing to do with reform – despite all the evidence to the contrary. And quite what the Indo has to do with the undoubted kneejerk reaction demonstrated here escapes me. The merits of reform of ‘privilege days’ are self-evident, unless you think that coverage in the Indo somehow removes from that reality?
To be honest, that’s about as incisive as ‘I know what you are, but what am I?’.

Your position seems to be one where you’re getting increasingly agitated by something neither smiffy, nor CMK, nor indeed myself have actually said or done.

Which is curious.

Seemingly you’ve missed the points where Smiffy denies that offices are not closed, that there’s no ‘real’ benefit to moving away from defined ‘privilege days’ and, oddly enough, when you yourself are faced with a civil servant stating quite clearly that their department was offered a choice of switching to flexible/normal holidays within a contract and opted instead for continence of ‘privilege days, draws the conclusion that, ‘civil servants interviewed sounded far from unwilling to be flexible’!? I’ll judge by deeds, not words.

The guy talking about 1.6 days for the public sector even if we took him at his word equalled 19 days plus 2 privilege days amounts to 21 days in total. Which erm… is equal to or less than the private sector.

That’s at a minimum within the PS, and doesn’t take account of any flexi clock hours (not overtime) that might be traded for additional day off a month in some departments, or indeed the handy week of sickies that can be taken without a doctor’s cert.So what we’re saying is that – taking the guy’s stats as gospel (who knows?), the private sector leave average is equal to the worst case scenario in the PS.

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90. alastair - June 1, 2009

The answer was that the management argument against increasing annual leave was that the privilege days already existed (and, frankly, it suits management better to keep it that way because if you don’t take a privilege day it can’t be carried over into a subsequent leave year).

If you’re going to talk about ‘reforming’ the system, this is a fundamental issue which has to be acknowledged, and not simply ignored, as you seem to prefer. Still, you’re clearly ignorant of the facts when it comes to this subject, and you haven’t actually proposed any specific reform (other than your initial knee-jerk comments), so there’s no reason why we should take you seriously, is there?

Doesn’t really tally with civil servants voting to retain the current system over regular holiday allowances though does it? And I note you still can’t accept that such a change would be a reform. You can harp on all you like about my supposed ignorance, but it’s worth pointing out that you’ve been wrong on the days, and the impact, not me.

At the start I made it clear that I was referring to the civil service only, rather than the public service more generally (including FAS). Didn’t or couldn’t you read that?

Oh please! Because closed FAS offices on ‘privilege days’ has nothing to do with Public Sector reform? Ignore the elephant in the room.

I take it, though, that you’re conceding the point about your ignorance in relation to the privilege day system overall, and are referring solely to FAS.

You’re some joker alright.

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91. WorldbyStorm - June 1, 2009

Please, this is getting a little silly. Some civil servants voted agin, some for, but we’re not talking about them, we’re talking about here on this site where flexibility to the idea of the days being allocated was evident.

As for privilege days being an issue beyond the very specific case of FAS, that’s not an ‘elephant in the room’. As noted on the RTE broadcast other departments actually do function essentially as normal with services still accessible to the public. Sort of undercuts the argument that this is some enormous ‘flaw’ in the system. Seems to be that there is already flexibility intrinsic to said system, something that could be extended to FAS (which by the by comes from a completely different background in terms of establishment and ethos sharing more with the educational sector than the general PS/CS).

I called for an acknowledgment that those were working days, and renegotiation of contracts to include only work days and holidays. This with dismissed as nothing to do with reform – despite all the evidence to the contrary. And quite what the Indo has to do with the undoubted kneejerk reaction demonstrated here escapes me. The merits of reform of ‘privilege days’ are self-evident, unless you think that coverage in the Indo somehow removes from that reality?
To be honest, that’s about as incisive as ‘I know what you are, but what am I?’.

Hold up… so you weren’t saying ‘cut’ them, you were saying ‘include’ them? Perhaps you could have saved us all the trouble of 88 or so comments subsequently – eh? Or are you? I can’t tell. I’m not sure anyone can.

As regards the Indo, my apologies, how could I be so unreasonable as to impute negative characteristics to something you introduce as a ‘rag’? Or indeed my further apologies that I could I be so dim as to hazard that as a seeming source for increasingly agitated commentary on a subject which you’ve also proven yourself not entirely up to speed with that I might call it very slightly into question?

Seemingly you’ve missed the points where Smiffy denies that offices are not closed, that there’s no ‘real’ benefit to moving away from defined ‘privilege days’ and, oddly enough, when you yourself are faced with a civil servant stating quite clearly that their department was offered a choice of switching to flexible/normal holidays within a contract and opted instead for continence of ‘privilege days, draws the conclusion that, ‘civil servants interviewed sounded far from unwilling to be flexible’!? I’ll judge by deeds, not words.

smiffy already made the point that he was referring to the CS as distinct from the broader PS. You already know, because he very generously informed us all that the CS operates a coverage policy – indeed that was also explicit.

That’s at a minimum within the PS, and doesn’t take account of any flexi clock hours (not overtime) that might be traded for additional day off a month in some departments, or indeed the handy week of sickies that can be taken without a doctor’s cert.So what we’re saying is that – taking the guy’s stats as gospel (who knows?), the private sector leave average is equal to the worst case scenario in the PS.

This burning resentment at others slight fortune calls to mind the old quote about a puritan, someone who is convinced that someone else somewhere else is having a better time than themselves. Really, I know I keep asking but you must ‘fess up. What on earth has the PS done to you?

But to the matter at hand, that might well be at a minimum, those were however the figures the guy quoted. And this is where I think your argument shades into something that if not an attack on the PS, certainly seems heavily weighted against it. Any stray information you can get you marshall against it. It seemingly doesn’t matter to you that it was you who quoted the RTE broadcast as supporting evidence, when that is then parsed and it is demonstrated that it might even on its own terms demonstrate if not the opposite then something a little more complex, at which point you then start to undercut it. Sure, you’re not against the PS, at least on a rhetorical level, but on a functional level – whatever about the fact that I know you’re not instinctively hostile to it – your stance seems a little different.

And, as was noted by other contributors holiday provision in the private sector can and often is much much greater – oh yeah, something I’ve already noted above. Although you duck and weave as regards the PS/Private Sector comparison in the discussion above perhaps because if we feed in conditions of work/nature of work/provision of perks at higher grades/salaries it doesn’t entirely come out in favour of the PS.

But to return to a point Hugh made, having been and in a certain sense still being a private sector worker I’m dependent upon the public sector to lead the way in provision of holidays, because unless I luck out in terms of joining a company with excellent provision of holidays my only hope across the rest of my life is that we see a more generous allocation.

As for sickies, I’ve got a post on that topic in preparation which points out a few home truths about some of the nonsense being talked about it as against provision in the private sector which I have direct and indirect experience of.

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92. smiffy - June 1, 2009

“Seemingly you’ve missed the points where Smiffy denies that offices are not closed”

That’s simply a lie (assuming you mean I deny they’re closed).

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93. alastair - June 1, 2009

Please, this is getting a little silly. Some civil servants voted agin, some for, but we’re not talking about them

We’re not? Because I’m told on the one hand that the retention of privilege days is all about management looking to avoid extending flexible holiday provision, and that there’s an obvious openness to that change (which isn’t of course a ‘real’ reform) by civil servants themselves. Now ‘some’ CS’s voted against it? I’d say that a majority presented with the option voted against it, wouldn’t you?

Sort of undercuts the argument that this is some enormous ‘flaw’ in the system.
No it does not. If you take two work days out of the year, you’re losing those days – regardless of what caretaker arrangements you make in their stead.

FAS (which by the by comes from a completely different background in terms of establishment and ethos sharing more with the educational sector than the general PS/CS).

Yeah, I can see how FAS and it’s closure on privilege days isn’t really pertinent to the public sector, and practices in need of reform. My bad.

This burning resentment at others slight fortune calls to mind the old quote about a puritan, someone who is convinced that someone else somewhere else is having a better time than themselves.

But to the matter at hand, that might well be at a minimum, those were however the figures the guy quoted. And this is where I think your argument shades into something that if not an attack on the PS

Cast your eyes upwards. I never mentioned holiday allowances until you claimed that the CS is equal to or less than the private sector. Now I don’t know if that guy’s stats were correct (it’s not something that I’ve any real interest in), but lets assume they were. The point about CS holiday provision being ‘equal to or less’ you raised simply needed the obvious clarification that you were comparing an average on one side with the minimum allowance on the other. Defending the public sector is all well and good, but a spade is still a spade. I’m under no illusion, btw, that anyone in the PS is having a better time than myself – I am very happy with the life choices I’ve made. Quite why demanding best practise out of a body that is there to serve the public, and is funded by the public, somehow infers jealousy, escapes me tbh. It reminds me of the fashionable retort, pulled out of a hat every time the preferential public pension deal is pointed out to those in the PS – ‘why didn’t you join the civil service if you think it’s so much better?’. Well I might like sausages, but that doesn’t mean I want to be a butcher. There’s absolutely nothing wrong in pointing out the benefits and poor practices in the public sector, it doesn’t mean I was beaten up by clerical officers out on the razz, it just means I expect some degree of culpability and change when screwed up practices are done on the taxpayers dime. NTL can be as inefficient as they like, the customer can take their business elewhere. The same can’t be said for FAS, or the revenue, or whichever PS branch you care to mention.

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WorldbyStorm - June 2, 2009

We’re not? Because I’m told on the one hand that the retention of privilege days is all about management looking to avoid extending flexible holiday provision, and that there’s an obvious openness to that change (which isn’t of course a ‘real’ reform) by civil servants themselves. Now ’some’ CS’s voted against it? I’d say that a majority presented with the option voted against it, wouldn’t you?

I have no idea. Neither do you. Neither of us is a PS/CS employee. In any case, we’re talking about here. You’ve been arguing from the off that you were met with a knee jerk response on this site. You weren’t.

No it does not. If you take two work days out of the year, you’re losing those days – regardless of what caretaker arrangements you make in their stead.

Where, precisely does that argument end? Is that a justification for, say 19 or 20 days holidays per year? What’s your bottom line? I deal with this further down, but it seems a dubious argument at best. You don’t seem to cleave to any particular standardisation that I can see other than one which demands cuts in provisions for workers in the CS/PS. Are you trying to align leave with the private sector? I and others have already pointed out that there leave for middle and higher management is considerably greater than for CS/PS workers. Are you saying that it should standardise with the general leave provision in the private sector for lower to mid level employees… 21 days or so excluding BH’s. If so it does at lower CS/PS levels inclusive of privilege days. Are you saying that because not all CS/PS workers are in on privilege days that somehow the service is much poorer? Seems unlikely to me if the public is dealt with and if on their other days they’re able to do the work. After all, they’re still only taking 21 odd days off a year. If those privilege days weren’t then they’d be some other time. The only point where your argument holds water is as follows…

Yeah, I can see how FAS and it’s closure on privilege days isn’t really pertinent to the public sector, and practices in need of reform. My bad.

The point being that it has a different ethos which is intrinsic to its role. That may be a good or a bad thing. As it happens I agree with you that closure at Easter is a bad thing. But you can’t extrapolate across the PS as a whole and the CS in particular from FAS.

Cast your eyes upwards. I never mentioned holiday allowances until you claimed that the CS is equal to or less than the private sector. Now I don’t know if that guy’s stats were correct (it’s not something that I’ve any real interest in), but lets assume they were. The point about CS holiday provision being ‘equal to or less’ you raised simply needed the obvious clarification that you were comparing an average on one side with the minimum allowance on the other. Defending the public sector is all well and good, but a spade is still a spade. I’m under no illusion, btw, that anyone in the PS is having a better time than myself – I am very happy with the life choices I’ve made. Quite why demanding best practise out of a body that is there to serve the public, and is funded by the public, somehow infers jealousy, escapes me tbh. It reminds me of the fashionable retort, pulled out of a hat every time the preferential public pension deal is pointed out to those in the PS – ‘why didn’t you join the civil service if you think it’s so much better?’. Well I might like sausages, but that doesn’t mean I want to be a butcher. There’s absolutely nothing wrong in pointing out the benefits and poor practices in the public sector, it doesn’t mean I was beaten up by clerical officers out on the razz, it just means I expect some degree of culpability and change when screwed up practices are done on the taxpayers dime. NTL can be as inefficient as they like, the customer can take their business elewhere. The same can’t be said for FAS, or the revenue, or whichever PS branch you care to mention.

But you’re being disproportionate in demanding of the CS and PS something that you wouldn’t of the private sector. The PS/CS isn’t a business although some areas of it have a business like aspect to them. You arrive on this thread demanding that they shed two leave days. Not that they rework them to be more flexible. People here are open to the latter idea but you persist in suggesting that they’re not. Moreover you continue to argue that these are ‘screwed up practices’. They don’t extend across the PS/CS, they appear as we’ve learned to be actually relatively limited

The really odd thing is that of all those who work in the private sector or on contract who’ve contributed to this discussion you are the only one who views this in those terms. Most, like myself, appear happy enough to fold those days into general leave. Most, again like myself, appear to think that as long as provision in the PS/CS is good there is more chance of it being extended to the private sector. I know from bitter experience as a union organiser inside a private sector employment that it is precisely those norms that become a standard for in terms of employment law etc when one arrives at the LRC. That too is an issue of best practice. it’s not all about cost, indeed there’s a strong argument when it comes to the PS/CS that that is only one of many many factors that should be considered.

And btw you completely misunderstand my other point. I’m not arguing that you or I should have joined the Civil Service, or that you made incorrect life choices…quite the opposite, you’ve seen the inside of telco board rooms and I’ve done okay – and I won’t speak for you but all told it’s been a damn sight more interesting for me than my time in London in the early 1990s where I worked for a period of time for a public sector employer in administration. That’s why I enquired, half in jest, as to any source of bitterness, because it seems so odd to see such an appetite to cut salaries, change conditions of employment and remove leave days from those whose work places are – to be frank, and with no disrespect to them – not that exciting.

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94. alastair - June 2, 2009

I have no idea.

You don’t? Because it’s clear enough from the RTE piece that this what happened in that particular CS’s department – a vote for retention rather than shifting to regular holiday provision. The guy isn’t likely to be making it up now, is he?

You’ve been arguing from the off that you were met with a knee jerk response on this site. You weren’t.

I beg to differ. That the call for reform of such a ridiculous practice warrants a thread this length would suggest otherwise.

Where, precisely does that argument end?

With the abolition of indefensible privilege days.

You don’t seem to cleave to any particular standardisation that I can see other than one which demands cuts in provisions for workers in the CS/PS.

A standard where no-one in the PS has ‘privilege days’ (or ‘cheque time’ for that matter). There’s no reasonable defence for either, and they aren’t available to all CS, let alone, PS workers.

If those privilege days weren’t then they’d be some other time.

Sure – but at least staff could be rostered to provide a full service for those days. Maybe that doesn’t seem like reform to you, but it certainly does to me.

The point being that it has a different ethos which is intrinsic to its role.

I’m at a loss as to what this might mean. I really don’t care about departmental ethos’ – my issue is with ridding the public sector of throwback nonsense like privilege days. PS? Check. Privilege days? Check.

But you’re being disproportionate in demanding of the CS and PS something that you wouldn’t of the private sector.

Nonsense. I’ve every right to demand decent service from any sector/body, and if I don’t get it, do something about it. I can take my business away from any private operation if they aren’t up to scartch, and have no compuction in doing so.

The PS/CS isn’t a business although some areas of it have a business like aspect to them.

Pretty much the entire CS, and much of the PS is in the service industry business – and in terms of the public face of quality of service there’s no real difference between it and the private sector
service industry.

You arrive on this thread demanding that they shed two leave days.

No I didn’t. I demanded that regular holidays be renegotiated on the back of axing privilege days.

They don’t extend across the PS/CS, they appear as we’ve learned to be actually relatively limited

I pointed out myself that they weren’t applicable across the board, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less screwed up or in need of reform.

I don’t buy into the notion of the CS as an agent of change for private sector employment terms btw – Apples and Oranges – the private sector simply can’t afford the sort of pension provision that the CS offers, and financial bonuses make no sense in a not-for-profit context. Very different inducements are going to be needed for wokers in either sector.

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95. WorldbyStorm - June 2, 2009

RTÉ programme? I’m not a member of the CS, neither are you, I’d tend to be cautious about weighing in on personnel and HR matters in any context without full knowledge of the situation. I’d certainly avoid forming opinions based on a forty minute podcast of Liveline.

I’d take issue with the idea the PS is a ‘service industry business’. I also know from personal experience that you’re flat out wrong that the public sector employment conditions have no impact in terms of what is implemented in private sector employments under the influence of the LRC, etc (and I wasn’t, as it happens, discussing pension provision). But I notice that when it suits you you argue that the PS/CS is similar to the private sector (service provision) and when it doesn’t you argue it isn’t (conditions of employment).

You say now, in response to my point that you arrived on the thread ‘demanding they shed two leave days’…

“No I didn’t. I demanded that regular holidays be renegotiated on the back of axing privilege days.”

But your first intervention on this matter (comment no. 8) was as follows:

“If it’s a change that bumps up productivity by X man hours a year, without any additional cost or employment implications, then it sure smells like a reform to me – regardless of the complexity of strategy or otherwise.

You’d think some people weren’t open to change.”

Which was in response to someone else’s assertion that you meant ‘cutting’ the days from annual leave.

If that’s not the case, if this is all a case of misinterpretation of your original post, shall we all just head home accepting the idea that yes, privilege days in their current form could well be negotiated into ordinary annual leave days? And that everyone here appears to be open to that, whatever the dispute over terminology, etc?

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96. alastair - June 3, 2009

I’d certainly avoid forming opinions based on a forty minute podcast of Liveline.

CS man on teh radio sez they had a vote. Voted to retain current arrangement. Seems unambiguous to me.

But I notice that when it suits you you argue that the PS/CS is similar to the private sector (service provision) and when it doesn’t you argue it isn’t (conditions of employment).

And? This isn’t a black and white world – there are similarities and distinctions. It’s not what ‘suits me’, but the facts on the ground.

everyone here appears to be open to that, whatever the dispute over terminology, etc?

The point isn’t the terminology – it’s the reduced or removed services two working days a year – a clear need for reform, and one that has been disputed right through this thread:

As a public servant myself, I see every day where reforms are needed – and every one of them involves spending more money, not less,

Well, one possible implication of what you’re arguing is that the ‘privilege days’ should be abolished and replaced with an across the board increase of two days’ standard leave allocation.
Of course, this would actually have a negative impact on overall productivity.

You are directing attention away from the main issue of the economic crisis into a dead end about Public Sector Workers pay and conditions

There’s nothing ‘dubious’ about it. That’s only your projection onto it.

As for it being a ‘reform’, I can’t for the life of me see how.

etc etc.

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97. WorldbyStorm - June 3, 2009

*CS man on teh radio sez they had a vote. Voted to retain current arrangement. Seems unambiguous to me.*

We have no idea as to the scope of that vote, or what the details were. Again, I’d want a bit more before making any firm decision. And as ever you’re happy to pick and choose on this issue, the other guy who mentioned a provision of 19.2 days even though he was arguing against privilege days isn’t good enough for you.

*And? This isn’t a black and white world – there are similarities and distinctions. It’s not what ’suits me’, but the facts on the ground.*

Which you aren’t fully aware of, as if evidenced by your lack of knowledge of what sectors of the PS/CS were covered by privilege days and what the impacts of those days were until later in the thread. That’s fine, I’m all for learning on the job, but it undercuts the certainty you project as to what the ‘facts’ are. We’ve moved from a point where you were certain that most of the PS/CS was covered to a situation where we now know that only a small segment has privilege days that impinge directly on the public.

*The point isn’t the terminology – it’s the reduced or removed services two working days a year – a clear need for reform, and one that has been disputed right through this thread:

As a public servant myself, I see every day where reforms are needed – and every one of them involves spending more money, not less,

Well, one possible implication of what you’re arguing is that the ‘privilege days’ should be abolished and replaced with an across the board increase of two days’ standard leave allocation.
Of course, this would actually have a negative impact on overall productivity.

You are directing attention away from the main issue of the economic crisis into a dead end about Public Sector Workers pay and conditions

There’s nothing ‘dubious’ about it. That’s only your projection onto it.

As for it being a ‘reform’, I can’t for the life of me see how.

etc etc.*

It’s precisely terminology. Your initial statement made no mention (and I’m guessing this, since you still despite repeated requests haven’t answered my question) as to whether you proposed folding them into annual leave for flexibility or doing away with them completely. It appeared, as in the quote I offered a comment or two back, to argue for their removal entirely. Hence the reaction you provoked.

You cannot dismiss the fact that your framing of the point was in such a way as to intrinsically lead to that response.

Had you come on here and said… “look, isn’t it problematic that in some limited areas of the PS privilege days curtail services to the public and wouldn’t it be better that these were reallocated as floating days in annual leave” I’ll hazard you’d have seen a very different response. And as it is despite the tone you took there was an acceptance that flexibility should be examined.

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