Civil Servant U-Turn Explanations Getting Worse

I noted a few days ago that the government’s justification for the U-turn on pay cuts for senior civil servants was to cite the international benchmarking carried out for the Review Body report that recommended the cuts in the first place. This seemed an unsatisfactory defence of this controversial decision.

Yesterday in the Dail, the Tanaiste put forward a new justification for the decision (link to Dail transcript here). The Tanaiste said “With regard to the pay and conditions of assistant secretaries, the review body on higher level pay indicated that the bonus was indicatively part of their salary.”

If I understand the argument correctly, the Tanaiste is saying that the Review Body’s report indicated that the salary that it was recommending be cut included the bonuses, in which case the government was not actually implementing the report’s recommendations in the first place but that policy was now consistent with the report because of the U-turn.

Well, here’s the Review Body’s report. It’s not that long and I’ve read it a couple of times. And as far as I can see, the Tanaiste’s claim is, well (… looking for polite term for it) not correct. I can’t find anywhere in the report where it says that the bonus was explicitly, implicitly, or, indeed, indicatively included in the baseline salary recommended to be cut.

In fact, there’s pretty solid evidence that the Review Body was explicitly excluding bonuses from the salaries being considered: The “current rate” salaries cited on page 5 of the report are base salaries excluding bonuses. This doesn’t seem to leave much room for the idea that the Review Body was including bonuses as part of the salary to be cut, whether indicatively or otherwise.

Is it really too much to ask for a for a simple and honest explanation for this decision, i.e. one that doesn’t rely on misrepresenting the report that recommended the cuts in the first place?

43 thoughts on “Civil Servant U-Turn Explanations Getting Worse”

  1. Karl,
    I have also read that review report – you are correct in your observation.
    Unfortunately very few people will do the same,including the FF td’s who are doing the usual trick of FF acting as their own verbal opposition while failing to apply pressure where it might have effect.
    There will be no u-turn on this issue and one wonders if there is even any concern within senior political and administrative levels at the potential impact of this reduction in the announced salary cuts.I think not – ‘let them eat cake’ philosophy prevails now!

  2. Karl
    It doesn’t matter what the review body said. What this says about the moral compass of those who lobbied for and agreed to this decision is what counts.

  3. As was predictable the lower paid civil servants are all steamed up about this and I don’t blame them.

  4. Maybe these civil servants can be persuaded to hand the money back to the exchequer, just like the way our esteemed judges did?

  5. I think a larger % pay cut for this group is being held in reserve for the next round in 2011. This will supposedly make further % cuts at lower grade levels more palatable.

  6. The report of the Review Body doesn’t matter. What matters is the absence of a moral compass on the part of those who lobbied for and agreed to this decision.

  7. surely that is “misleading the house”?

    Bottom line is that the Asst. Secs whinged that their “packages” had been hit by the suspension of the bonuses so they shouldn’t take any more pain. As civil servants with access to the appropriate ears they were listened to.

    Cry me a river.

  8. @Kevin O’Rourke

    Put yourself in the position of a couple working in the civil service on a combined income of €60k, and 2 children and a mortgage. They get their pay cut. This is what they see.

    Someone on €150k, smaller percentage cut.

    Retired assistant secretary, children grown up, mortgage paid off 15 years ago, pension considerably higher than €60k, zero cut.

    You read daily in the media that you are overpaid and under worked and must reform. Meanwhile no significant reforms are proposed for the banks.

    Not surprising at all that they should be steamed up.

  9. “Is it really too much to ask for a for a simple and honest explanation for this decision?”

    Eh, yes.

  10. I have already supplied, in the earlier post on this topic, the likeliest true motive for this bribe to those who work closest to those who have been bribed themselves ……..

    What has this to do with economics? It appears that you are attempting to undermine public confidence in those who have been bought by our betters. Shame on you! What do you think will happen? This may well happen on a far greater scale in the USA to shepherd in a New World Order! Are we, by making it clear to the gullible governed, merely preparing the way for greater chaos? You may be merely jumping the gun, that another was to trigger?

    On balance I do not think we face much danger in Ireland from that sort of thinking on the part of our betters. Prepare the next salvo!

  11. @ Andydufresne

    1. Agree
    The report of the Review Body doesn’t matter-it is just a fig leaf for the body politic to hide behind
    2. Please could you define what a moral compass actually is? I don’t think I have ever seen one….

  12. Well, here’s the Review Body’s report. It’s not that long and I’ve read it a couple of times. And as far as I can see, the Tanaiste’s claim is, well (… looking for polite term for it) not correct

    Just call it like it is, she is telling lies ,dam lies and more lies !
    Machholz

  13. Recently introduced to this site and have found it to be very informative.

    This particular subject matter and the OP’s assertion that our very own Tanaiste may have misled the Dail with a statement that was incorrect, compels me to ask the OP, what will you do with this information? Will you bring it to the attention of Joan Bruton and Eamonn Gilmore?

    Given the facts surrounding this whole issue, there simply can be no justification for the U-turn. But for a member of our Government, and the Tanaiste no less, to attempt to do so in this manner demands correction, at the very least.

    I believe that the people of this Country are a long way from revolution but, as recent reports suggest, we as consumers have become better at complaining when dissatisfied. This new found talent should, in this instance, be put to good use. It is all to easy to be cynical and suggest such action is a waste of time but to (mis)quote an Irish political philosopher “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”.

  14. @ Avan,

    Labour TD Kathleen Lynch yesterday alleged in the Dail that the Tanaiste had misled the House with her statement, so perhaps more can be expected about it next week? Not that it will mean anything, if upheld, beyond a further embarrassment to the Tanaiste in having to acknowledge that she yet again mangled words and their meaning.

    No disrepect intended to the Tanaiste but asked a simple question like “What time is it?” a reply something along the following lines might be anticipated:

    “In the context of Darwin’s great theory of relativity, there’s no certainty as to the answer to your question as it depends on whether you’re moving or standing still in the context of the time we’re in , but only in that context. In the context of the government finances, I have to say that since they cut my salary I can’t afford a watch and in that context I am not in a position to answer your question, but in the context of the overall state of the public finances this government is determined to take timely action to ensure that in due course, and in the proper context as time permits, all public servants, including deputies and in particular Ministers like myself, will soon be flashing rolexes on our wrists so that there will no further difficulties such as those which we now face.”

    The sad fact is that many of us political junkie types gave up a long time ago on the expectation of hearing a word from that lady on any issue that makes any sense at all!

    Meanwhile, in the Dail yesterday, as the opposition once again pursued the pay u-turn, Brian Lenihan offered the following explanation:

    “Were we to have applied the full reduction recommended by the body to the particular group, it would have meant an effective reduction in their remuneration package of an average of 18% for assistant secretaries, well in excess of the reduction accepted by Members of this House and by principal officers at their equivalent grade and well in excess of the amount imposed on Ministers and in excess of the amount imposed on Secretaries General.

    “It is worth noting also that this group, unlike everyone else in the category, was benchmarked in the report on higher level salaries, which Deputies can examine for the precise arrangements applicable to this category.”

    He went on to say:
    “A Civil Service clerical officer on the mid-point of the scale has suffered a net loss in the last three budgets since autumn 2008 of approximately 11.7% of pay. I accept that is a very significant loss. It should be compared to the net loss to those in the higher paid grades. In the same period, an Assistant Secretary has suffered a net loss of more than 24% of pay while a Deputy Secretary has suffered a net loss of more than 27% of pay.” The highest paid civil servants, level one Secretaries General, who volunteered to take an additional pay reduction, have seen their net pay reduced by more than one third.”

  15. I understand that one civil servant was not paid a bonus (according to newspaper reports).
    If the Tanaiste is correct then this civil servant suffered a reduction of pay.Unless he refused the bonus voluntarily for some unspecifed reason then to suffer a reduction of pay he would have to have done something horrendous.
    Indeed I believe the only way this could be achieved is through a reduction in increments or demotion to a lower salary grade.
    An administrative procedure along laid down guidelines would have to have been followed.
    Therefore an examination of the exception to the rule will prove whether this was a bonus or pay.

  16. Veronica
    HEEEHEEHEEE!

    Sean o
    Interesting! FOI may not work however.

    All
    We know they lie. They know we know. The Dail, don’t mention the Seanad, is powerless and an embarrassment. In the USA they at least appear to make representational politics work, spending billions on elections for jobs that we pay more for! …. but here they do not bother.

    Why? The Irish will not revolt. Wellington said two memorable things about the Irish. The stable joke and the fear of his soldiers before Waterloo. Most of his “Allied” forces were mercenaries, but of the regular “English” forces a very large part were Irish. What happened to that fighting spirit? We’ll see it return over the next decades, eh? Eh? Or are we too smart now?

  17. I raised this issue directly with Joe O’Toole on radio last week. He went into an immediate defence about how it wasn’t fair that they lost the bonuses last year and then had the pay cut too. As long as the unions are willing to protect the higher paid while pushing the lower paid out as the cannon fodder, then nothing will change. It’s getting pretty depressing.

  18. @ Sarah Carey

    “As long as the unions are willing to protect the higher paid while pushing the lower paid out as the cannon fodder”

    No one is pushing out the lower paid as cannon fodder. The CPSU are the most active regarding industrial action, and they represent the lower paid. These actions followed on from ballots among the members. Just because someone is lower paid does not mean they are sheep, incapable of feeling legitimate anger.

    Blair Horan of the CPSU described the u-turn as ‘unfair and outrageous’. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2010/0127/1224263210749.html

    But as usual, why let the truth get in the way of a good story?

  19. @ Eoin Bond

    Exactly which lies did the CPSU say? In none of the testimonials was it denied that that one part of the couple was in the private sector.

    If anything the testimonials highlighted what a non-sense the whole public/private sector divide is. They also countered the spin that all public sector workers are highly paid.

    If anything I feel that that article was such an over the top, William Martin Murphy type article, that it would increase support for the CPSU.

  20. @ Rory

    Where did i call them liars? The point, which should be fairly obvious, was that the CPSU is as guilty of using spin and selective referencing to promote their cause as anyone else is. Mary Duffy is earning e451 a week and she can’t afford to pay her mortgage, but even if she was earning e528 (ie 458 + 77) a week, she still couldn’t afford to pay her mortgage. If they gave her a e77 increase on top of that shestill probably couldnt afford to pay her mortgage. She can’t afford to pay her mortgage because the family lost the primary wage earner, not because the government brought in a pay cut. To paint the story as “cuts caused family to lose home” is disengenuous at best, and probably fair to say as a large “untruth”. As the article says, the story is full of spin. But to turn your comment back on you, the CPSU didn’t want the facts to get in the way of a good story.

  21. My point directed at Sarah Carey was that she was not merely putting ‘spin’ but was completely incorrect in claiming that unions were ‘pushing the lower paid out as the cannon fodder’ to protect the pay of those on higher incomes. It is the lower paid workers (such as those in CPSU and Unite) that are most angry at the cuts and are the leading union in the industrial actions. The other unions are following the lower paid workers.

    As for the Sunday Independent article, they really made an article out of nothing. In the speech given by the affected civil servant she outlined clearly the circumstances she was in. The facts were clearly presented.

    From RTÉ 5 days ago:

    “Mary Duffy from the Department of Education in Tullamore outlined how her house had been repossessed after her husband became unemployed. She is living on €451 a week in rented accommodation – though her son still thinks they are on holiday.”
    http://www.rte.ie/news/2010/0126/partnership.html

    No attempt was made by the CPSU to hide that her spouse was in the private sector and lost his job.

    If anything the Sunday Independent are being disingenuous in suggesting the CPSU were disingenuous.

  22. As a matter of interest, can anyone clarify to me the basis on which the bonuses were orginally brought in and the basis upon which they were to be calculated and paid? Were they brought in as a reward for exceptional performance or were they for anyone who met a normal standard of performance? It is hard to imagine that people who had been eleveated to such high ranking positions would underperform in the first place so why have bonuses?

  23. @ Zhou

    “It is hard to imagine that people who had been eleveated to such high ranking positions would underperform in the first place”

    Indeed, hard to imagine. An appalling vista I would have thought ..

  24. @KW

    hmmm… perhaps I mis-spoke…

    Edit to read as follows: “It is hard to imagine that people who had been elevated to such high ranking positions should require additional bonuses to incentivise them to perform to the expected high standard”.

  25. @Zhou

    Is it true that only one senior civil servant who was eligible for a bonus did not meet the required standards. We need to know where he/she works!!!
    Moreover, I am relaibly informed that almost everybody got the full bonus. We are truly honoured to have the most talented elite in the bureaucracy of the western world.

  26. @propertygal
    Are you getting the feeling that we are witnessing another PR stunt in the making? Lenihan and now Cowen have both declared that they are not for turning on the salary cuts of the senior civil servants. FF TDs have been getting it in the neck from angry low paid public servants, to an extent that seems to have shocked them, about this hypocrisy. Lenihan is THE media darling and it won’t make much difference to Cowen’s standing anyway.
    I think there is a very high likelihood this decision will be reversed at the FF party meeting tonight. FF TDs need a victory and the government doesn’t need the rod it created for its own back. Even if the decision isn’t reversed, I would say that the unions and our discredited government will almost inevitably come to an agreement. That would be a tremendous pity.

    It is high time all parts of our society stood up and demanded that those who caused our economic and financial disaster leave office immediately.

  27. This is the price of purchasing the political loyalty of a group that devises and implements critical policy decisions. The Gardai, the lower paid public servants etc etc could all be taken on – but not the core top group on whom politicians depend to push tough decisions through. It is a great example of cynical realpolitic. Erik Honeker would have approved.

  28. As I predicted in the first comment – no change – ff td’s did their media huffing and puffing bit – not one media interviewer asked what actions they would take besides raising the matter at their parliamentary meeting – motion not put – and a round of applause for Lenihan following his contribution!!
    Its time we all copped on to ourselves and realised that the gravy train will only be derailed if the EU threatens to treat us like the Greeks – ‘not done what you said you would do boys/girls?well now you can add another 10-20 % to the original commitments and we’ll see ye in another thre months’…..

  29. When the bonuses were introduced, were they then treated as a salary increase? If they weren’t, then surely the removal of the same bonus can’t possibly be treated as a salary decrease?

    If these senior public servants took the same care when it comes to the controlling public spending as they take concerning their own renumeration, then the spending in the public sector must be under very tight control 🙂

  30. @Rory O’Farrell

    I said months ago that the division should be between, not public and private sector workers, but higher and lower paid workers, whether private or public sector. It should be the hairdresser and the hospital cleaner vs the lawyer and the Sec Gen.
    Union leaders keep claiming that there is an “orchestrated campaign against the public sector”. The only “orchestrated campaign” I’ve observed is the one run by the trade unions to protect their people from top to bottom – Assistant Secretary to hospital cleaner. They whine about the Mary Duffy’s and are mysteriously silent on the Assistant Secretaries.

    That report clearly takes the bonuses into account. If Mary Coughlan isn’t made to account for her misleading statement it proves nothing has or will change.

  31. @ Sarah Carey

    You say “The only “orchestrated campaign” I’ve observed is the one run by the trade unions to protect their people from top to bottom”.

    The AASHG (which represents the grades involved in the u-turn) is not even in a member of the ICTU. You give absolutely zero evidence to back up your theory that unions are using the lower paid to maintain the pay of people who are not even members of the unions in dispute. I already gave a link to Blair Horan condemning the U-turn. Just because the media does not run with the story of the unions opposition does not mean they are silent on the issue.

    You say “the division should be between, not public and private sector workers, but higher and lower paid workers”. The trade union movement is based on solidarity between workers. The econometric evidence shows that unions compress the wage distribution, which benefits the lower paid far more than the higher paid. For unions the division will always be between management and employees as these are the opposing sides in collective bargaining.

    The ICTU do not represent the ‘lawyer and the Sec Gen [who are top management]’. The Law Society is not a trade union.
    (Of course there may be some qualified lawyers who are employees and members of unions, but this is rare.)

    Trade unions ‘whine about’ people who lost their homes, not due to some conspiracy to maintain the pay of management, but because these are the people they represent.

  32. Well, Joe O’Toole put up a great argument in favour of the reversal when I debated the issue with him on RTE Radio. “It wasn’t fair” sob.

    I acknowledge the link re Blair Horan – I had been looking for just such a condemnation and was having trouble finding it – even though I also debated the issue with another CPSU spokesperson on Newstalk who was notably slow to criticise the reversal.

    But as for this “For unions the division will always be between management and employees as these are the opposing sides in collective bargaining.”

    Ho ho ho. Which is why they went gung ho for benchmarking which saw disproportionate leaps in salaries for management grades while the lower paid made do with small % increases. Face it, the management grades were creaming it with their bonuses guaranteed while the clerical workers got their meagre annual increment.

    As for the “the law society is not a trade union.” Neither is the bar council. That is not the point. The point is that while I support the manual devaluation policy, it only works if everyone, including the professionals take part. Dentists, doctors, lawyers, accountants etc. Their fees have to come down too if this process is going to work. Their professional organisations are essentially cartels that set fees. I don’t mind taking a % decrease on my salary (which I have) but if the doctor puts up his fees, the plan falls apart.

    So, just to be clear. I want the whole lot. I want the Assistant Secretaries to take their 12% and I want the professionals to take their cut too.

    *That* is solidarity.

  33. Gene Kerrigan makes the point today better than I have here

    http://www.independent.ie/opinion/columnists/gene-kerrigan/gene-kerrigan-republican-guard-saved-from-worst-of-the-cuts-2052012.html

    “In the old days, the unions would have led a fightback. Today, the unions are led by comfortable chaps who desire nothing more than to be allowed return to the top table. They share too many of the elite’s political and economic assumptions to be any use to those they represent.”

  34. @ Sarah Carey

    You seem to be treating the union movement as some sort of monolith. There have always been large sections of the ICTU that were against partnership on principle. UNITE (formerly ATGWU) is the most obvious example.

    The unions, and their membership (they aren’t different entities), ‘went gung ho for benchmarking’ because the membership did well out of it. There is evidence from the ESRI that supports the notion that unions compressed the wages in the public sector (though in fairness, I have a lot of problems with their analysis on public sector pay). Here is a link to SIPTUs position on management pay http://www.siptu.ie/PressRoom/TheEconomy/

    “In the old days, the unions would have led a fightback.” Perhaps. And perhaps in the old days they would have led a fightback against NAMA and so on. Unfortunately (in my view) unions are far weaker than 20 years ago. In contrast to most other countries Ireland does not have a left-leaning newspaper, such as The Guardian or The Mirror in Britain, which would help them lead a fightback.
    Is this story given front page prominence? http://www.independent.ie/national-news/public-sector-workers-turn-to-welfare-for-survival-2052071.html

    I agree that professional fees should come down, as should rents and other costs. However the whole media focus has been on wages, despite Irish workers getting amongst the lowest shares of output. Only recently has some focus been put on rents.

    At the end of the day it is Fianna Fáil that runs the country. The unions have no capacity to bring down rents, electricity charges or professional fees. The ICTU did not bring about the U-Turn, Brian Lenihan did.

  35. @ Sarah Carey
    You seem to be treating the union movement as some sort of monolith. There have always been large sections of the ICTU that were against partnership on principle. UNITE (formerly ATGWU) is the most obvious example.

    The unions, and their membership (they aren’t different entities), ‘went gung ho for benchmarking’ because the membership did well out of it. There is evidence from the ESRI that supports the notion that unions compressed the wages in the public sector (though in fairness, I have a lot of problems with their analysis on public sector pay). Here is a link to SIPTUs position on management pay http://www.siptu.ie/PressRoom/TheEconomy/

    “In the old days, the unions would have led a fightback.” Perhaps. And perhaps in the old days they would have led a fightback against NAMA and so on. Unfortunately (in my view) unions are far weaker than 20 years ago. In contrast to most other countries Ireland does not have a left-leaning newspaper, such as The Guardian or The Mirror in Britain, which would help them lead a fightback.
    Is this story given front page prominence? http://www.independent.ie/national-news/public-sector-workers-turn-to-welfare-for-survival-2052071.html

    I agree that professional fees should come down, as should rents and other costs. However the whole media focus has been on wages, despite Irish workers getting amongst the lowest shares of output. Only recently has some focus been put on rents.

    At the end of the day it is Fianna Fáil that runs the country. The unions have no capacity to bring down rents, electricity charges or professional fees. The ICTU did not bring about the U-Turn, Brian Lenihan did.

  36. One interesting question is whether the emigration option will function not only as an economic safety valve (which is a good thing) but as a political safety valve for our elites (which is a bad thing) as well. I guess it probably will, and so nothing will change.

  37. At Sarah Carey

    You seem to be treating the union movement as some sort of monolith. There have always been large sections of the ICTU that were against partnership on principle. UNITE (formerly ATGWU) is the most obvious example.

    The unions, and their membership (they aren’t different entities), ‘went gung ho for benchmarking’ because the membership did well out of it. There is evidence from the ESRI that supports the notion that unions compressed the wages in the public sector (though in fairness, I have a lot of problems with their analysis on public sector pay). Here is a link to SIPTUs position on management pay http://www.siptu.ie/PressRoom/TheEconomy/

    “In the old days, the unions would have led a fightback.” Perhaps. And perhaps in the old days they would have led a fightback against NAMA and so on. Unfortunately (in my view) unions are far weaker than 20 years ago. In contrast to most other countries Ireland does not have a left-leaning newspaper, such as The Guardian or The Mirror in Britain, which would help them lead a fightback.
    Is this story given front page prominence? http://www.independent.ie/national-news/public-sector-workers-turn-to-welfare-for-survival-2052071.html

    I agree that professional fees should come down, as should rents and other costs. However the whole media focus has been on wages, despite Irish workers getting amongst the lowest shares of output. Only recently has some focus been put on rents.

    At the end of the day it is Fianna Fáil that runs the country. The unions have no capacity to bring down rents, electricity charges or professional fees. The ICTU did not bring about the U-Turn, Brian Lenihan did.

  38. @ Kevin O’Rourke

    One aspect that has been largely ignored is that pensions have not received any cuts.

    When people think of pensioners they usually have in mind a Granny living in a cold old house. I would be against cutting the pensions of those on low incomes. However the reason those with large pensions (including Bertie Aherne and so on) is that

    1) most of the FF TDs will lose their jobs, and will rely on these pensions
    2) pensioners will not emmigrate and can be reliably expected to vote.

    Before getting too despondent however we should remember that in 1916 Michael Collins, Sean Lemass, Ernie Blythe, Sean Moylan and Kevin O’Higgins (among others) were all under 30 years old.

    Unemployment can give young educated people the free time to become involved in politics.

  39. @ Sarah Carey

    “In the old days, the unions would have led a fightback.” Perhaps. And perhaps in the old days they would have led a fightback against NAMA and so on. Unfortunately (in my view) unions are far weaker than 20 years ago. In contrast to most other countries Ireland does not have a left-leaning newspaper, such as The Guardian or The Mirror in Britain, which would help them lead a fightback.
    Is this story given front page prominence? http://www.independent.ie/national-news/public-sector-workers-turn-to-welfare-for-survival-2052071.html

    I agree that professional fees should come down, as should rents and other costs. However the whole media focus has been on wages, despite Irish workers getting amongst the lowest shares of output. Only recently has some focus been put on rents.

    At the end of the day it is Fianna Fáil that runs the country. The unions have no capacity to bring down rents, electricity charges or professional fees. The ICTU did not bring about the U-Turn, Brian Lenihan did.

  40. @Rory

    “At the end of the day it is Fianna Fáil that runs the country.”

    That indeed is the tragedy. They were elected over and over again.

    We are where we are because the people voted for it. They were warned, and they would not listen.

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