Howlin’s most petty last “last ask”

In the past couple of weeks, some public servants have started receiving emails and circulars regarding their temporary cut to annual leave.  This was one of the minor clauses contained in the Haddington Road Agreement (aka Croke Park II), something glossed over or ignored by the unions when advising staff to vote in favour of it.

In essence, those on the max of their salary scale, earning between €35k and €65k per annum, and with more than 23 days’ annual leave entitlement, lose up to six days’ annual leave, temporarily, between now and 2015.  So, e.g., an Administrative Officer reaching the top of their scale this year will lose 2 days in 2014, 2 more in 2015, and one in 2016 – and in 2017 will be back to their full leave entitlement.  People effected are essentially working an extra six days over three years.

Why? Er, reasons. Just because.

I suppose ostensibly Howlin will claim it’s necessary, it’ll increase productivity, and sure look, it’s part of the (cue his overused phrase) “last ask” for public servants.

So the Administrative Officer on max of scale loses 6 days leave. Her division head on more leave and a lot more money loses nothing.  The Junior Systems Analyst on max of scale loses 6 days leave but his boss on possibly less money loses none.  Two people in the same grade but where one started a couple of months before the other – one loses days, the other doesn’t.

It’s petty.

It won’t increase productivity by any measurable amount.  Every office, department, and public body has lost staff that haven’t been replaced.  Some of us working an extra two days a year for a couple of years doesn’t – can’t – make up for that.

It’s there because Robert Watt told Brendan Howlin to do it, because, on paper, x number of civil servants working 2 days extra per year for three years can apparently roughly translate into a monetary amount that can go onto one side of a balance sheet.

What isn’t taken into account is that after the pay freeze, the numerous pay cuts, the lack of any promotional opportunities, the longer hours, the reneging on the Croke Park Agreement by Labour and Fine Gael, the gutting of family-friendly work practices (such as flexi-time and term-time) and everything else, this latest unnecessary, inequitable exercise does come at a cost – whatever goodwill or flexibility that may have remained.

Another cost may well be a pretty direct relationship between the number people losing leave and the number of votes lost by Labour and Fine Gael…

Destroying FoI

Not content with attacking the pay and conditions of workers in the centenary year of the 1913 Lockout, Brendan Howlin is now attempting to completely undermine the Freedom of Information Act.

Prior to the general election, both Labour and Fine Gael had promised to restore the Act, removing the hindrances introduced over time by Fianna Fáil.

Now it seems it actually suits them to gut the Act, making it effectively impossible to use it for in-depth investigative journalism.

My own experience of using the Act, as a member of the great unwashed public, is that you really have to know what you’re looking for, and where is the best place to put your question, because you won’t be helped.  In the past, I’ve gotten about 500 pages from one government department, giving all the information that had been requested, for no charge, when the agency that actually “owned” the information had quoted a prohibitive cost for obtaining the same information.

I’m not a journalist, my livelihood doesn’t depend on this.  But I am a citizen, and the society I live in is best served with a strong, affordable FOI Act.