Wednesday, 30 June 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Penrose: I thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for selecting this extremely important matter for the Adjournment. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Department of Communications, the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Browne, who will reply to this matter. He has a particular responsibility for this brief and I appreciate his presence at this late hour. It is an indication of his concern.
This question has been raised on behalf of approximately 60 general operatives who are employed throughout the country by the various fisheries boards, all of which come under the umbrella of the Central Fisheries Board. Coming from an important lake district of the midlands, I have an obvious interest in this area.
I am pleased to note that thousands of employees of the various health boards and local authorities throughout the country and officers within the fisheries boards can look forward to the second payment of 50% under the recent benchmarking agreement. This is important in the context of increasing the wages of various personnel in those areas who were on low wages for a long period. While these people can look forward to their deserved moneys under the agreement, the 60 general operatives employed by the fisheries boards still await their first payment. These workers still await the release of a document from the Central Fisheries Board or the Department of Finance on which to ballot. Payment under the benchmarking agreement has been protracted in regard to this sector.
These State employees are sick and tired of being treated like second-class citizens. A certain amount of frustration and anger is building up among them when it comes to the payment of such national agreements. It is worth reflecting that in 2001 these same workers experienced similar frustration and anger as payment of moneys due under the analogue agreement was extremely protracted in its execution and final implementation. Three years on history is repeating itself.
So far as I am aware - and the Minister of State has the full facts - a letter was forwarded by SIPTU in November 2003 to the management of the Central Fisheries Board. This raised concerns pertaining to the protracted nature of the 2001 scenario and requested that a repetition should be avoided at all costs. Since then numerous representations by SIPTU, on behalf of the general operatives, have resulted in little or no relevant information emanating from the Central Fisheries Board or the Department of Finance. Perhaps it is the dead hand of the Department of Finance that is delaying this matter. It was essential to ascertain the timeframe and the structure of the payment of the first phase of the parallel benchmarking for these workers to which they are duly entitled.
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Browne): I thank Deputy Penrose for raising this issue. The pay relationship referred to by the Deputy applies to the general operative grades employed by the central and regional fisheries boards which are modelled on similar grades within the local authorities.
Under the general operatives and related grades parallel benchmarking pay arrangements, these employees of the fisheries boards are entitled to pay awards subject to the agreement of management and unions to a modernisation plan. In this case the modernisation plan had to be modelled on the plan for the local authorities which was approved and published last year.
The preparation and drafting of the modernisation plan had to be discussed and agreed with the unions and management of the seven regional fisheries boards and the central board. It must be recognised that there is a process to be followed in the granting of these awards and that negotiations on issues of this nature can understandably take some time to complete. In addition, payment of an award is contingent on Department of Finance approval of the revised scale amounts and the proposed method of implementation of awards.
The formally agreed and signed modernisation plan must also be approved by the performance verification group which operates within my Department. This is a high level group which is responsible for verifying performance as set out in modernisation action plans for fisheries boards and other non-commercial semi-State bodies operating under the aegis of my Department.
On 17 May 2004, the Central Fisheries Board submitted on behalf of the regional fisheries boards a draft modernisation plan covering pay and modernisation for the general operative grades. In addition, details of the draft scales, which will apply to the general operative grades, together with the proposed method of implementation of the awards, were submitted to my Department on 4 June 2004 for consideration and approval by the Department of Finance. Approval of the draft scales and method of implementation is expected to be forthcoming from the Department shortly. My Department has been informed by the Central Fisheries Board that approval of the draft scales must be received before the draft modernisation plan can be formally agreed and signed by management and unions. When the formally agreed plan is received by my Department, it will be assessed as quickly as possible by the performance verification group. I am advised that arrangements to pay the awards will be made as soon as possible after the plan, has been approved by the verification group.
While I appreciate that employees of the fisheries boards are anxious to receive their pay increases, I emphasise that this is not a straightforward pay round. Increases are linked to the adoption of a modernisation strategy, the formulation and adoption of which necessarily takes time to complete. The timeframe since receipt of the revised scales by my Department for approval on 4 June cannot be considered unreasonably long. I assure the Deputy that all necessary steps are being taken to ensure that payment of the awards to the general operative grades will be made at the earliest possible date with appropriate retrospective effect.
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