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Abolishing unpaid hours would cost €621m

The State would have to hire over 11,600 new employees at a cost of €621 million if the 15 million unpaid hours imposed on public servants during the economic crisis were abolished.

This is according to a new report published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

The document – ‘Estimating the Value of Additional Hours Worked: Haddington Road and Croke Park Agreements’ – reveals not just the value of the additional hours, but how they are used, and the potential cost of any reversion to the shorter pre-crisis working week for government employees.

During the negotiations on the LRA2 agreement, the government strongly resisted union demands to eliminate the unpaid hours, arguing that they were adding productivity and increasing the ability to deliver services.

Even if only half of the hours were replaced through recruitment, it would still cost at least €311 million – not including additional costs like pensions, higher hourly overtime rates, and more use of expensive agency workers.

Health and education account for 67% of the total additional hours.

In health, the report claims the additional hours provided additional consultant led medical intervention to reduce waiting lists – though recently published figures revealed the highest ever waiting list statistics. 

The report also says the unpaid hours have been used to cover leave and reduce spending on agency staff in the health service, where at any one time, 4% of nurses or midwives are on maternity leave.

If nurses returned to their previous 37.5 hour working week, 1,433 additional nurses would have to be recruited at a potential cost of €88m to maintain current services.

In education, the report says that the additional hours have delivered better services including “practically eliminating” school closures for events like staff and parent-teacher meetings.

The report warns that if the unpaid hours ceased in third level institutions, they would have to limit the intake to courses.

The extra unpaid hours have also allowed extended opening hours and out-of-hours services in areas including hospital clinics, Intreo offices, and public libraries, as well as reducing processing times for things like social welfare claims.

The report states that the unpaid hours have also allowed the State to maintain a high level of public services delivery in the context of demographic increases in service users in health and education, and in the context of lower staffing numbers e.g. in local authorities.

They have also improved Revenue Commissioners audit, compliance and investigation functions.

The civil service accounted for almost 3.5 million of the 15 million additional unpaid hours, worth approximately €96 million.

Recruiting replacement staff would cost up to €103 million.

In the Revenue Commissioners, the additional hours are the equivalent of 317.5 full time employees – with an overtime saving of €1.1 million per annum.

The hours permitted new Revenue initiatives including dedicating staff to specified audit and compliance programmes.

In local authorities, where total staffing levels fell by almost a quarter between 2008 and 2015, the additional hours deliver the equivalent of 554 employees.

The report warns that abolition of the unpaid hours would hit initiatives particularly in the water sector, libraries and the fire service.

An Garda Síochána delivered 190,000 additional hours worth around €6.8 million.

The report says those additional hours resulted in a “substantial decrease in costs associated with the policing and investigation of serious criminal offences”.

It says the hours facilitated high visibility crime and traffic checkpoints, public order and border patrols at weekends without overtime.

At Tusla, they have permitted the deployment of additional family based interventions and strengthened child protection.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform report concludes that in light of cost savings and service improvements, the additional hours should be retained in full.

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