Adjournment Matter. - Traffic Wardens.

Friday, 2 July 1999

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 160 No. 3

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Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I seem to be doing that on a fairly frequent basis but in a reasonably good humoured way, at least after the fray is over.

This matter concerns traffic wardens. I realise traffic wardens are not always universally loved because nobody likes paying fines. Nobody likes to be coerced into behaving like a proper citizen, as we ought to behave. I have received traffic tickets in my time. I have paid some of them, argued over some of them and have been let off paying one or two of them because I had a just case.

Traffic wardens, mostly mature females, are decent people. I have always found them courteous and pleasant in the exercise of their duties. There are three aspects to a traffic warden's job, the clerical, the physical and the personal. On the clerical aspect, their duties include issuing fines for on the spot offences, transferring information from tickets into their notebooks, including tax details, other relevant information such as the location of a vehicle, the date and time of the offence, the registration number and colour of a vehicle, preparation of notes for court attendance in the District and appeals courts, answering queries from the public with regard to offences that have been committed, reporting false tax discs, recording the metres that are out of order in a record book and recording faulty lines and signs, which is very important because it is necessary that such demarcation be clear and appropriate. They have been trained for these duties. They have to have a good knowledge of the corporation's by laws. They have to record persistent offenders and they give on the job training to new wardens.

With regard to the physical aspect of their job, they do a good deal of physical and strenuous exercise. They walk up to ten miles a day. They must be neatly dressed in their uniforms, they must be courteous to the public at all times, they have to carry books of tickets, notebooks, yellow envelopes and out of order tickets for metres. [328] They are often issued with pens that are substandard and leak. They are not provided with any form of bag or satchel to carry these items. They frequently attract abuse from irate members of the public, particularly if they have a few scoops on them, so to speak. An important point is that they have no method of getting help because they do not have walkie-talkies.

The number of wardens has diminished in recent years through natural wastage and they have not been replaced. The majority of wardens are part-time and female. They have no prospect of becoming full-time – in the past six years six part-time wardens have become full-time. They must prove at interview that they suffer from hardship and that is rather degrading and demeaning – in other words, they have to beg for their jobs. They have been asked to take on extra duties involving disc parking, pay and display machines, one hour parking, all day clearways, bus lanes, residents' parking discs, pedestrian zones, coach parking, etc. and they generally do a good job.

Promotional opportunities for them are very few. It took 15 years to have a supervisory grade put in place and there are only six such positions available. There has been only one firm promotion in the past four years. Part-time wardens are prohibited from taking a supervisory position while remaining part-time, which, in itself, is a form of discrimination. At present, there is a list of 51 people who may be willing to take on part-time jobs. The average industrial wage is £15,000 per annum and wardens' wages are below that at £12,500.

The traffic wardens in Dublin operate under the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and day to day administration of their work is the responsibility of the Garda Commissioner. As a result of the DTI final report on the traffic problems in Dublin, it was agreed to transfer responsibility for traffic wardens from the Garda Síochána to Dublin Corporation. As part of this plan the existing traffic warden service was to be transferred to Dublin Corporation and wardens initially gave a welcome to this initiative and to the proposals on traffic management generally because they saw them as having the potential to upgrade the service and it was hoped that this would lead to improvements in the service and provide opportunities for the wardens.

It appears, however, that the transfer of the traffic wardens to Dublin Corporation is merely an opportunity to disband the traffic warden service without openly stating that this is the case. The intention is to replace it with the non-Irish profit-making company, Control Plus. Under this system, work will be taken from State employees and transferred to this commercial company. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform says it is transferring the public warden service in line with the Government decision of 25 July [329] 1995. It must, in its view, also transfer the traffic wardens, despite the categorical statements from Dublin Corporation that it has no jobs for 146 traffic wardens. That is the nub of the anomaly. It will offer a token number of jobs and transfer the majority into general operative grades within the corporation, but that is not satisfactory.

As far as the Garda is concerned, the Garda Commissioner has helped in this matter, in transferring responsibility for on the spot fines and tow-away services to Dublin Corporation. He has provided training for clampers in towing vehicles and in by law enforcement. He has also provided training in the giving of evidence in court cases involving traffic offences.

I welcome the clampers. I have a little song, “Clamp, clamp, clamp, the boys are marching . . . ”, which I sing to the immense annoyance of my neighbours, who hate the clampers. Some clampers are fairly courteous, but many of them operate like bouncers at a disco. There is no flexibility and nothing like the courtesy that traffic wardens displayed in most instances.

The decision to transfer the traffic wardens was on the recommendation of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. This recommendation was based on a departmental memorandum, the contents of which were never made public. The traffic wardens do not know its contents. They sought information on it, including using the Freedom of Information Act, but they have not got it. That is quite extraordinary.

Many traffic wardens were employed as unestablished civil servants, appointed subject to the Civil Service Regulation Acts, 1956 and 1958. Their transfer is legalised as a transfer of State industrial employees designated under section 23(3) of Industrial Regulation Acts.

The Director of Traffic was appointed in April 1997. He was involved in negotiations with traffic wardens and their trade union representatives over a prolonged period. He invited them to a working session and a social gathering and this has become known, among traffic wardens, as “the last supper” because, despite the pleasant social occasion, it became clear to them that they were being shafted. He had no intention, apparently, of employing the wardens in the corporation – at least, this is what they feel. This information only came to light when the Director of Traffic was speaking at a conference. He departed from his prepared speech to praise the efforts of the clampers and to suggest that their success left him without any need to employ traffic wardens.

Dublin Corporation has returned to the negotiations under the PCW. They indicate that the corporation will take a token number of traffic wardens. Their employment as traffic wardens will not include the issuing of on the spot fines, [330] nor is it guaranteed beyond an initial 12 months. In the event that none of the existing wardens choose to apply for the traffic jobs within Dublin Corporation, the corporation would feel free to dispense with any warden service at all.

Dublin Corporation seems to be suggesting that the traffic warden service is redundant due to the success of its clamping operation. While clamping has had a major effect on illegal parking, it has not obviated the need for on the spot fines. The DTI indicated that in order to implement its recommendations there would be a need for additional traffic wardens, not for closing down the service. It views the traffic warden service as separate from tow-away and clamping services.

The increase in car ownership will add to the traffic management problems. Already, the extension of disc parking can be observed in the suburbs. The number of offences subject to on the spot fines has increased. People are terrified of the clampers, because there is minimum fine of £65. The opportunity exists to increase the fines imposed by the traffic wardens from the £15 fine, which is quite small, to a fine more in line with the minimum fine imposed by the clampers. Traffic wardens strongly believe they have a role to play in traffic management as uniformed staff working along side the Garda Síochána. A recent report commented on the lack of civilians in the Garda Síochána. The proposed transfer of 146 wardens will further reduce this number.

The wardens are looking for legal and social rights, to which I think they are entitled. Those who are part-time traffic wardens hold contracts until they are 70 years while full-time traffic wardens are contracted until they are 65 years. Yet these contracts are being disregarded by the decision to transfer them out of State employment as unestablished civil servants to a grade under Dublin Corporation where the clear intention is not to utilise their skills as traffic wardens.

I am speaking on this because when approached by traffic wardens on my street I have always found them helpful, courteous, cheerful and decent people who, for not very extravagant pay, do an important job. There is room for them as well as the clampers. I approve of the clampers, many of whom are decent people. However, they could take a lesson from existing traffic wardens in how to deal with the public. I have been well treated by them on a number of occasions but I have also overheard them dealing with other people, using a flow of bad language, being abusive and, as I said, acting like nightclub bouncers on steroids. I appeal to the Minister to continue to look into this situation on behalf of traffic wardens who do a very necessary job with courtesy and often get abuse from members of the public.

[331]Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. Fahey): Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  I apologise for the absence of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, who, as the House will know, is engaged in the talks in Belfast. It would useful to set out the background to the transfer of the traffic warden service to Dublin Corporation. I appreciate the fine case made by Senator Norris on behalf of traffic wardens. Their job is a difficult one and we appreciate the way in which they carry out their work.

On 26 July 1995, the previous Government accepted the recommendations submitted by the then Minister for the Environment in regard to the Dublin transportation initiative plan. This plan recommended, inter alia, the appointment by Dublin Corporation of a director of traffic to take over responsibility from the Garda Commissioner for the traffic warden service, on the spot fines, to introduce wheel clamping and to have overall responsibility for traffic management in Dublin city.

The progress on the implementation of the Government decision is as follows: a director of traffic was appointed by Dublin Corporation in April 1997, wheel clamping was introduced by Dublin Corporation in the summer of 1998 and it took over responsibility from the Garda Commissioner for the tow-away service in September 1998.

The transfer of the traffic warden service is now required for the full implementation of the Government decision in regard to the traffic services. There are 142 traffic wardens currently employed by the Garda Commissioner. They are State industrial employees and can, therefore, be transferred within the public sector. They are being transferred with the functions they discharge to a local authority, Dublin Corporation. The transfer will bring the Dublin metropolitan area into line with the rest of the State whereby local authorities employ traffic wardens under the Local Government (Traffic Wardens) Act, 1975.

Prolonged and intensive negotiations have taken place under the PCW agreement between the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Department of Finance, Dublin Corporation and the two unions representing the [332] traffic wardens – IMPACT and SIPTU. Joint proposals have been put to the unions by the Commissioner, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Dublin Corporation which offer the traffic wardens enhanced pay and conditions on transfer.

Arrangements to effect the transfer earlier this year did not proceed in order to allow the unions to seek further clarification from Dublin Corporation on its PCW proposals. I should emphasise that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform considers that all outstanding matters, in so far as its own proposals are concerned, have been resolved. However, Dublin Corporation has stated to the traffic warden unions that because of the success of the wheel clamping, which is of course, a matter solely for Dublin Corporation, a maximum of 30 traffic wardens will be required. A voluntary retirement package will be offered by Dublin Corporation as part of its PCW proposals, referred to earlier, to those who wish to avail of it. The remaining traffic wardens will be redeployed by Dublin Corporation to other duties commensurate with their grade.

The difficulty now is that the traffic warden unions have not balloted on the joint proposals to date and that Dublin Corporation has indicated that it will not effect the transfer until the traffic wardens have balloted on the PCW proposals. I should also add that the Labour Relations Commission, at the request of the traffic warden unions, recently held conciliation conferences to address the problem. However, no resolution emerged from these discussions. My Department is currently in discussions with the Department of the Environment and Local Government in order to resolve the matter so that the Government decision to which I referred earlier can be implemented. I will bring the valid comments made by Senator Norris to the attention of the Department.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I thank the Minister for his courteous reply. It is clear from what he said that there is a natural wastage in this area. I hope some of the points I made will be taken on board during the discussions. I welcome them and hope they are successful in resolving the matter.

The Seanad adjourned at 2.05 p.m. until 12 noon on Tuesday, 6 July 1999.

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