herald

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Passport chiefs still face 61,000 backlog as staff debate deal

The passport dispute is almost over -- but a backlog of 61,000 passports needs to be cleared.

Plans are underway today to fast-track emergency passports and take on new staff to cut through a huge backlog in applications.

The proposals are part of a deal brokered yesterday to end a long-running and disruptive dispute at the Passport Office.

It has been accepted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and will be put to members of a union for lower-paid civil servants next week.

If the Civil, Public and Services Union (CPSU) backs it, the plan to prioritise emergency cases, including people with immediate travel plans, and take on up to 80 temporary staff, is likely to start on Monday week.

The proposals mean staff will resume a service prioritising passports for members of the public in emergency situations.

These emergencies include cases where people are travelling within days, getting married, or representing Ireland in international games.

Applications will also be speeded up for those on business or taking up a job opportunity abroad, or in cases of death or humanitarian need.





Summer

And up to 50 temporary staff may also be taken on to help clear the existing backlog of over 61,000 applications and meet peak summer demand.

A further 35 temporary clerical officers will also be recruited if necessary to assist these workers and a mediator will review staffing levels on December 1.

The proposals were put forward by Labour Relations Commission mediator Kieran Mulvey yesterday following two days of talks between Department of Foreign Affairs officials and the CPSU.

Mr Mulvey said the processing of priority passports should commence as "soon as possible".





Erupted

He offered his services after a new row erupted when the union accused management of axing a fast-track service with no warning two weeks ago.

It complained that staff were being harassed by members of the public because they had been instructed by the director of the Passport Office, Joe Nugent, to stop prioritising applications.

The department denied a fast-tracking agreement existed and said it did not want to resume the service until new recruits were taken on to reduce the backlog.

The massive backlog in passport applications -- which hit a high of over 71,000 at one point -- is the fallout from the civil servants' work-to-rule that went on for months over the €1bn Budget pay-cut earlier this year.

Thousands of people were forced to cancel their travel plans due to random office closures, phone bans and other industrial action by the CPSU, PSEU and IMPACT.

However, a significant backlog has remained, despite the suspension of industrial action when public service unions struck the Croke Park deal with the Government.

hnews@herald.ie

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