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Monday, September 15, 2008

It's not easy being mean

Trust me. It's no fun being a contrarian.

People tend to make assumptions based on what you haven't said rather than what you have.

When you point out the obvious - like, for example, the unelectability of a Democratic American Presidential candidate who has no experience or the electability of a photogenic Republican Veep candidate, all of a sudden it's assumed in direct contradiction of all evidence that you're rabidly Republican and have left the planet.

This is not fun for me.

Similarly, when you point out some inconvenient truths, like the appalling inequity between men and women over reproductive rights, along comes a gang of fembloggers to depict you as some sort of Taliban.

Again, not so fun, and rather difficult to explain to the Marxist-Feminist better half.

So it is with a degree of trepidation that I say this - John McGuinness, junior Fianna Fail minister of State, is correct.

People want him to resign because he said there is a culture within the Irish civil service that stifles ambition, and that reform is hampered by overprotection of the civil service by their unions.

At the risk of being depicted in some quarters as a neo-liberal wingnut, I have to agree with the junior minister on this one.

I'm sorry to be mean, but there it is. He's absolutely right. The Irish civil service is overstaffed by a large cohort (and I mean in the tens of thousands) of lazy, skiving, entitled, pensioned-up ne'er-do-wells who wouldn't last ten minutes in a job in the private sector.

Of course there are diligent, hard working civil servants. But they're seriously outnumbered by the flexi-time brigade who'd rather apply for career breaks to go travelling, demand auto-promotion every couple of years, and count their end-salary pensions than do a day's proper work.

Just think about any interaction you have with the state. If it isn't the Revenue Commission you're dealing with, you'll be waiting a long, long time for a response. And when it comes, it will be slapdash, ill-considered and probably wrong.

Then you'll have to write to them again, fill in forms again, phone them up and wait endlessly on the end of the line again, while some surly weapon busy gossipping with her mates or some bored graduate completes his fantasy football line-up before deigning to take your call out of the queue.

We've all heard stories about how some parts of the civil service (don't) work. My favourite was told to me by a pal who once did a stint in the Births, Marriages and Deaths office.

On day one, he noticed the phone ringing and no one answering it. When he went to lift the phone, he was advised by his senior that if he did so, it would from then on become his responsibility to do so all the time. So he didn't bother. And so the phones were never answered.

Now, there are major difficulties in overseeing the reform of the service, largely because there are so many working in it. That's a large cohort of people, who unlike a lot of the population working in the private sector, do make a point of voting.

That makes it profoundly difficult for any government that wants re-electing to do anything about the excess of entitlements, massive pensions, guaranteed promotions and daily skiving that exists in the civil service here.

And it is exactly this threat that is being made by the civil service unions demanding McGuinness's head on a spike. They're effectively saying, 'Leave our pork alone, or we'll turf you all out of office.'

And to a very small degree, you can see their point. Why should they have to give up their easy life when the politicians still enjoy some of the highest wages and longest holidays in the world?

But as a taxpayer working in the ever harder-hit private sector, looking at our delapidated health service that can't afford to screen women for mammograms or immunise all at-risk children against cancer, looking at our overcrowded schools and their rundown portakabin classrooms, I want to see a cull in the civil service. A big one.

I want to see someone with the cojones to axe the pension schemes, axe the job security, cut the numbers, and reduce the lengthy list of perks in the Irish civil service.

Under benchmarking, civil servants were pegged against private sector wage levels. This being Ireland, it meant that they ended up being paid around a third MORE than their private sector equivalents, while enjoying a whole ream of things, like auto-promotion, job security and state-subsidised pensions, that no one in the private sector ever gets.

It's now time for the benchmarking to flow in the opposite direction. It's time that the civil service experienced the job losses, rationalisation, pay freezes, and slashed perks that the private sector in Ireland has been experiencing during this economic downturn.

Until we address the huge pork barrel that is the Irish civil service, we're never going to be able to correct our state and our economy to ride out this recession.

Fair play to John McGuinness (and it's rare I say that about anyone in Fianna Fail) for recognising that and putting his career on the line to say so in public.


Anonymous said...

I may or may not work for the Revenue Commissioners.

I also may or may not work my bollix off.

Gabriel Cooney said...

I definitely don't work for the revenue Commissioners. I amy or may not work my bollix off. However,I get paid or not by how much I work or don't. The civil service has too long been sucking the blood from this country - cull the vampires - cull!cull!!

Sorry, getting a bit carried away.

JC Skinner said...

Spot on, Gabriel.

Missing Neighbour said...

I think the civil service is a bit hit and miss (like most industry in Ireland private or public).It pays to be in possession of this fact when dealing with almost anyone in the good old Republic. I was once due a tax rebate and duly sent a mail containing all of the relevant details off to TWO different tax offices because I knew this would greatly increase my chances of receiving said rebate as promptly as possible. Now the upshot of this is that one of the offices did deal with my bit of business in an expedient and efficient manner, however I had to wait Three Months for a reply from the other office explaining that they couldn't proceed with my request until I had supplied them with x, y and z extra documents (total bullshit in other words). My reply was to the effect of 'Get your effing job done you lazy fecker. I have already had my claim processed months ago and I have a good mind to report you to your superiors for doing the square root of fuck all and getting paid handsomely for it'. Although after reading your story about no one answering the phones I am not sure this would have achieved anything of significance.

JC Skinner said...

I'd have written a letter to the head of the Department seeking their sacking, MN.
After all, it is (or was) your tax paying them to sit on their fat hole doing nothing for three months.

Uncivil servant said...

I am a civil servant. I have been since I left the private sector in 1991 when there were no jobs other than 3 month contracts. I had to wait 5 years for my first promotion interview because of an embargo on promotions. I was then promoted twice in 2 years through doing exams, interviews and a damn good job. I have been promoted since and am currently awaiting another promotion (due in a month). None of these have been automatic and I have have worked bloody hard to get them.

However, I have worked with some of the laziest gobshites I have ever met. Even in my current grade, I cannot fire these feckers. They are taking jobs that others could do far better and others that work with them take up the slack.

Don't tar everybody with the same brush, some of us work too hard.

JC Skinner said...

Thanks a lot for that, Uncivil.
I do appreciate that there are a lot of decent, hardworking civil servants out there.
I even know a few, and their stories of the lazy shirking of so many of their colleagues is what inspired me to write in support of John McGuinness' comments, useless meeja whore that he is.
There must be some method for getting rid of the chaff, the timeservers, the skivers and the useless.
And we need to find and implement that method now.
And unfortunately, the country is not in a position to facilitate end-salary pensions, lengthy career breaks, auto-promotion and benchmarking (in its current format) such as so many of your waster colleagues enjoy.
Hopefully at the end of things, we'll have a slim, functional civil service that serves the public, without the vast expense of so many massive rented offices, and gargantuan pension provision.

Anonymous said...

Having talked to a civil servant (who is utterly disgusted by her skiving unfireable colleagues and thinks the civil service needs a boot up the arse) - it wasn't McGuinness calling them lazy that pissed her off, but that the minister called the civil service liars.

Especially since it's the ministers that continually ask for reports to be "massaged" to make the contents more politically palatable.

Anonymous said...

There is no such thing as an automatic promotion in the Civil Service. Promotions based on seniority was done away with years ago.
There's no problem with people being critical of the way the public service works but I wish critisism would be framed with factual accuracies.

JC Skinner said...

I guess I should have expected that eventually some anonymous skiver would come along to lie about the existence of auto-promotion every few years.
Anon, I refer you to the comment from the earlier anon, who honestly revealed how there previously was no auto-promotion during the Nineties promotion freeze, but how there most definitely is today.

Anonymous said...

I'm a civil servant, I worked 830 to 1930 today. It's not a usual occurence but in my (small, atypical) department we work well, and we work hard.

McGuinness had a fair few fair points about pensions and job security though, all of which have been maintained (if not improved) in the 11 years now politicians from his self-same party have been in a position to do something about it.

But what annoyed me most about McGuinness is that he, a politician, the only species of mammal which can lead from the rear, accused us civil servants of lacking imagination and courage.

Uncivil Servant said...

"Auto-promotion" does not officially exist. Promotion on Seniority and Suitability exists.

A true example: I have recently been placed on a promotion panel, but numpty has not. However, because numpty has more years service than I, he gets the next promotion because he is more senior and the next promotion was due to be filled by Seniority and Suitability. Now, I have demonstrated my "suitability" for the role in an interview, but this goon gets promoted ahead of me on Seniority and...what exactly? He is obviously not suitable as he did not make the panel (i.e. attain a sufficient mark in the interview).

Don't be fooled into thinking that "auto-promotion" does not exist. It only changed its name. It is also due to remain in place for quite a while.

JC Skinner said...

Again, I feel honour bound to repeat two points:
Firstly, there are certainly many hard working civil servants, and I believe any restructuring of the service should focus on incentivising them and motivating anyone else to emulate them or get the hell out.
Secondly, I'd be the first to say that our politicians are overpaid, craven, opportunistic, perks-grabbing scumbags. And McGuinness is one of the worst media opportunists. But that still doesn't mean he's not right.

Anonymous said...

Re: re my comments of "auto promotions" @ 2:33 PM

The previous poster "who joined the CS in 91" did not refer to "auto promotion", it is clear from their scenario that they got promoted under the merit based system.

Two comments on promotion by Suitability and Seniority.

Firstly they're very few promotion given under S&S, and those that are are not automatic promotions as you still have to sit an interview, and can still fail to gain promotion if you don't pass on the relevant competency areas (this frequently happens).
The reason S&S exists is to allow people who do badly on aptitude tests (the normal route to an interview) a chance at an interview.

Secondly promotion on S&S only exist for EO and SO positions, two very junior grades within the CS. Middle and senior level have no S&S promotions anymore. These were largely done away with on foot of the much maligned benchmarking process.

Thirdly, I am not a "skiver" civil servant who "lies", I work hard and, as it happens, never got a promotion based on sustability and service.

There are many things to critise the civil service about (pensions and job security), and reform is needed, but there has been imperfect improvements over the last few years in recruitment and promotion.

Rua said...

Papa Rua works his nut off for the CS and has done so for the last thirty odd years. However, he spends half his day fighting with the people above him for the space to do his job right and the other half checking up on the lazy feckers around him-leaving him no time to get his actual job done.

The CS needs a cull, desperately, but now is not the time to do it. The strain on an already flagging economy of tens upon thousands of unemployed and unemployable former civil servants would be devestating. Note: I say unemployable because if I were an employer and saw that someone had managed to get sacked from the CS I wouldn't even give them an interview.