10. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if his Department provides funding to organisations (details supplied) to facilitate pay restoration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 53432/17 asked on 14 Dec 2017)
Deputy Joan Burton: This question relates to workers paid out of the public purse, particularly in hospices but also in other section 39 organisations, who voluntarily took pay reductions during the country’s darkest hour when the economy crashed. As these salaries are entirely funded out of the public purse, what are the Minister’s plans to make a declaration on providing properly for pay restoration for these people who took a hit in the public interest? When will the Minister restore their wages?
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: The particular work of these organisations in the community and voluntary sector is greatly appreciated, particularly in light of their commitment, dedication and hard work. The organisations deliver a wide array of much-needed support services at community level to a very varied range of users on a day-to-day basis throughout the year.
The Deputy will be aware, however, that the organisations to which she refers are concerns and operations in respect of which my Department does not have actual corporate responsibility or direct involvement. Let us bear in mind the number of people involved. As non-public servants, the staff of such organisations could exceed 100,000. There could be more than 100,000 individuals working in these sectors. Some 300,000 people are working directly for the State. As many as one third more could be working for these organisations. These individuals did not fall within the application of the FEMPI legislation, which involved reductions in pay and increases in pension contributions for public servants. It is correspondingly the case that current public service pay policy does not extend to such organisations. This is a matter for those organisations, which are self-governed and accountable to their management for their own financial resources. It is not the case that many of these organisations are entirely funded by the State. Many of them have their own sources and streams of funding.
Since the Deputy raised the matter with me - she and Deputy Calleary have done so on a number of occasions - I sought to deepen my understanding of what is involved. It is not a uniform case that all of these organisations cut wages. Some organisations did cut wages, which I acknowledge, but others did not. Other organisations may have changed the number of people working for them or made changes to find cost savings elsewhere. A huge number of these organisations come within the remit of the Department of Health, not to mention those that come with the remits of the Departments of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Children and Youth Affairs.
Deputy Joan Burton: As the Minister knows, my correspondence on this has been particularly directed to the hospices. He knows St. Francis Hospice, which serves my constituency and his. The other sources of funding the Minister refers to are the donations of the public in each area to develop, build and rebuild the absolutely vital services for people in the last stages of terminal illness. Not only that, but the hospice movement has evolved in an absolutely wonderful way in recent years. Nowadays it has service level agreements with big general hospitals to provide a hospice service where people could be dying under bright lights in a ward full of people. The Minister can make a declaration and there is a precedent in respect of the salaries of school secretaries. I do not deny there are problems with some organisations but the Minister must address this.
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: On foot of the Deputy raising this matter, I asked the Department to do some work for me to tell me how much funding goes to section 39 organisations and what has been the trend in that funding over the past few years. I also asked for an update on whether organisations implemented pay reductions that were consistent with the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, and if so how they did that. I acknowledge and am familiar with the work of the hospice movement and with the hospice the Deputy refers to.
In 2016 just over €1 billion was made available to section 39 organisations. I then asked for an assessment of how that had changed over the past few years. Between 2014 and 2016 that figure has gone up by 15%. I then asked the Department to tell me whether, for organisations that did go ahead and implement wage reductions, there was any consistency in that. The complexity of this matter arises from the fact that there is not. I have no evidence to say that organisations that, for example, did decide to pass on the pay reductions passed them on at the same time as they were made within the public service. We have to make an assessment that it happened at the same rate as in the public service. That is why it is very difficult for me at this point to give the declaration the Deputy is asking for.
She was good enough to acknowledge the complexity of this issue. It is deeply complex and potentially involves up to 100,000 people in organisations in the State.
Deputy Joan Burton: Last week we in the Dáil passed a Supplementary Estimate for the Department of Health of €195 million, which is additional to the huge extra funding that has been put into that Department over recent years. I do a lot of voluntary work for the hospice, as do so many other citizens. The hospices in Limerick, in Milford, in my area, in Raheny, which is in Deputy Broughan’s area, and in Cork are all recruiting staff nurses, doctors and other staff from the general HSE system. I do not think it is the Minister’s intention but he is in effect asking somebody who leaves, for example, Connolly or Beaumont hospitals to go to St. Francis Hospice in Raheny or Blanchardstown to take, from this year on, a reduction of up to 3% in basic pay. Does the Minister as a manager understand the difficulty that poses for the hospices? It is almost impossible to continue to recruit with a drop in pay levels for those transferring.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: As there is a lot of interest in this question, under Standing Orders I can call on others for brief supplementary questions.
Deputy Dara Calleary: I want to express my frustration because I sought to table this issue as my first priority and the Minister’s office transferred it to the Department of Health. I thank Deputy Burton for tabling it.
The HSE wrote in the immediate aftermath of the FEMPI legislation, in 2010, to all of these section 39 organisations and withdrew the equivalent amount of the FEMPI reductions in public service from their budgets. There may not have been a direct link between FEMPI and the section 39 organisations but they and, more importantly, their employees paid the FEMPI price. Now that we are reversing FEMPI, and it was the HSE that made the link not the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, it affects the hospice movement and all sorts of other organisations. We are telling them they took the hit for the State but now that we are in a position to give the funds back to State employees, we will not do the same for them. Can the Minister share the work his Department did with us here in the House so that we can actually see what organisations are playing ducks and drakes with this?
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: The Minister’s response to Deputy Burton is disingenuous. I am familiar too with the hospice movement. When the Irish Wheelchair Association, IWA, and Rehab came in here they showed how they had cut salaries in step with FEMPI, as they were asked to do at the time. The Minister may not be aware that the IWA took a case to the Labour Court recently and was vindicated. The trade unions obtained a decision that workers in that organisation should get a 7% rise in salary. I raised this at one of the first Leaders’ Questions taken by Deputy Varadkar when he became Taoiseach. There is a clear case for this House to do justice to these very valuable 100,000 workers.
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: The Department of Health and in particular the HSE will receive additional funding next year of over €580 million. Deputy Burton referred to the Supplementary Estimate of €180 million that went through the House some days ago in respect of health, a portion of which was to continue to fund an access plan later this year but most of it was to continue to contribute to the funding of essential day-to-day services.
Giving an answer that recognises the complexity of an issue is not the same as being disingenuous. They are different things.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: For many of those the Minister is employing his response is disingenuous.
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: I have not attempted in any way to under appreciate the contribution these workers make or the value of these organisations. I am making the point that the funding available to these organisations has gone up substantially over recent years. I have every reason to expect that upon publication of the HSE service action plan funding for those organisations will go up again next year, as it has in previous years. If organisations have made changes in payment to their staff during the period of FEMPI cuts taking place for those who worked directly for the public service those organisations should re-engage with their staff now. There are 100,000 individuals working in this sector across a wide variety of organisations but they do not work for the State and I cannot single out one sector, such as the hospices, which do great work because every other sector will expect the same ruling to be applied to them. This is why it must be a matter for the employers to work out with their employees.