Reply To: Decentralisation – the end…?
Decentralisation plans hit legal snag
By Niamh Connolly
The government has been warned that staff in 30 state agencies could pursue constructive dismissal cases if it proceeds with its plan to decentralise jobs out of Dublin.
In a further blow to the government’s controversial policy, officials at the Department of Finance have been warned by the union, Siptu, that any attempt to transfer state agencies to the regions could lead to “a situation of dismissal” under the terms of the Redundancy Payments Act 1997.
Siptu, which represents 20 state agencies, briefed finance officials on legal advice it had received about decentralisation at a meeting last month, according to Owen Reidy, the union’s branch secretary for state and related agencies.
“We have brought it to the attention of the department of finance that if the plan were to go ahead as envisaged, it has the potential to lead to a dismissal or compulsory redundancy situation,” he said.
Only 2 per cent of state agency employees, out of 2,249 surveyed, expressed any interest in moving out of Dublin, according to figures compiled by the Central Application Facility (Caf).
According to Reidy, 95 per cent of Siptu’s membership were not interested in relocating with their agency.
If an employer moves a workplace to an alternative location that exceeds a certain reasonable distance, there is the potential for a redundancy situation to arise, Reidy said.
The figures show no staff want to move to Athlone, where the Higher Education Authority is to be relocated under the decentralisation plan.
Staff also do not want to move to Mallow, Co Cork, where Failte Ireland is to be relocated, Clonakilty, Co Cork (Bord Iascaigh Mhara), Carrickmacross (Comhairle, the advisory agency), Monaghan (Combat Poverty Agency), Shannon (Irish Aviation Authority) and Thomastown, Co Kilkenny (Health and Safety Authority).
Just seven of the 292 staff in Enterprise Ireland want to move to Shannon, while just five of the 382 staff in Fas want to move to Birr.
The terms and conditions of employment for people working in state agencies differ from those of civil servants.
There is an established practice of civil servants transferring between departments to gain experience and this was facilitated by the clerical and administrative nature of their work.
However, no similar mechanism exists for state agency staff with specialised skills to transfer between agencies.
This presents the government with a potential legal problem if it proceeds with its decentralisation plans.
“National Roads Authority engineers have specific skills and do not have the option of becoming tax inspectors,” said Reidy. Similarly, specialised staff in the Ordinance Survey of Ireland are not likely to transfer to the Combat Poverty Agency.
“Where are they going to get employment for their skills with the same conditions and terms of employment, unless they move with their workplace?” said Reidy.
Siptu urged a boycott of this survey on the grounds that it was not voluntary, as it did not offer state sector employees the option of remaining in Dublin.
It has also written to state agency employers advising them of a pre-emptive ballot on the potential of pre-emptive strike action, “should the situation worsen”, according to the union.
The Caf figures show that only 7.5 per cent of civil service staff are interested in moving out of Dublin. This amounts to 471 out of a total 6,277 civil servants.
Despite the paucity of interest among civil servants and state agency staff, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Tom Parlon, is proceeding with the purchase of sites in Athlone, the Curragh, Longford, Furbo, Carlow and Trim for relocated state agencies and departments.