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Dept said PSC staff would be ‘phased out’ this year. There’s still 80 employed

Unions had sought permanent contracts for some of these workers, but failed in a number of cases last year.

THERE ARE STILL 80 temporary clerical officers assigned to the Public Services Card (PSC) project, a year after the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection said these staff would be “phased out” in 2019.

A number of the 150 or so staff who were taken on to facilitate the rollout of the card in 2012 had claimed they should be given permanent contracts due to how the set date for when their temporary contracts would expire became a “moveable feast”.

Trade union Fórsa took at least 30 cases to the WRC on behalf of its members, but in a number of cases these were unsuccessful, and a department spokesperson told TheJournal.ie last year these contracts would be phased out. 

Public Services Card

PR-wise, it’s not been a great year for the Public Services Card.

In August, Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon announced the findings of her landmark report into legality of the card. She found there was no legal basis for the card to be mandatory for anything other than welfare.

The PSC was indeed initially rolled out fully in 2012 for this very reason – a card that social welfare recipients needed to get to claim their payment.

But, over the years, it was announced the card would be mandatory for other public services – such as for certain people applying for a passport or driver’s licence.

On the foot of a number of concerns being raised around issues of privacy and the State introducing such a card without a national debate, the Data Protection Commissioner launched her investigation.

Given the damning findings in her report, it had led to questions being asked about the future of the PSC itself and the merit in continuing with a project that had already cost the State over €60 million.

The government, for its part, has said it will not be abandoning the PSC and will fight any enforcement order issued by the Data Protection Commissioner to comply with the findings of the report.

Workers

Temporary clerical officers were brought on board to the PSC project in 2012. Their contracts stated their job is to “facilitate the implementation” and “begin the roll out” of the Public Services Card. Once that has been completed, their contracts will be terminated.

Workers, however, had argued that the original so-called end date of their contracts came and went, with the newest end dates constantly moving and shifting.

Over 3.2 million people in the country have been issued with a PSC and, as the government has continued to press ahead the workers argued they should be made permanent because working on the PSC had become part and parcel of everyday work. 

Earlier this year, TheJournal.ie reported the extensive training manuals and circulars advising on protocol for the PSC.

The workers also argued that work on the PSC had become so intensive that permanent clerical workers were involved in working on it regularly, while their own roles had begun to involve other clerical matters. 

They submitted that the clerical work they did often overlapped with that of regular, permanent staff.

At WRC hearing, the workers’ union said it could accept the need for fixed-term staff, but where someone had been in employment for longer than four years the department should provide very specific reasons why their contracts shouldn’t be converted into permanent ones.

The department told the WRC last year that when the need for these workers to help with the roll out of the PSC ends, each of the clerical workers will have their contract terminated.

However, a department spokesperson had confirmed to TheJournal.ie that more than half of the number of staff originally employed on a temporary basis to rollout the PSC were still employed.

A spokesperson said: “At the commencement of the Public Services Card project, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform approved the assignment of 150 Temporary Clerical Officers (TCOs) to the project. There has been significant turnover of staff since then and the filling of vacancies arising are now based on a review of business need.

There are currently 80 TCOs assigned to the PSC project to support the continued delivery of the project.

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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