Some €7.5 million in unapproved and unauthorised payments paid out by universities from 2005-2009
The Minister for Education and Skills has secured government agreement for the drafting of an amendment to the Universities Act 1997. This amendment will give the Minister the power to require universities to comply with government guidelines on remuneration, allowances, pensions and staffing numbers in the University sector. It will further address issues which have arisen in relation to the non-adherence to elements of the Croke Park Agreement.
Other than the extreme option of the Government removing a Governing Body, following a report by a High Court Judge the current legislation contains no practical and proportionate remedies in the event that an institution fails to comply with its statutory obligations or otherwise acts in contravention of Government pay or numbers policy.
As a result, the Minister has had no power to compel a university to comply with its statutory obligations on Government pay or staff numbers policy. Unlike other areas in the public service, including the Institutes of Technology, this has meant that the Minister and the Department of Education and Skills (DES) had to rely on persuasion rather than the powers of the law in ensuring compliance with Government policy.
Between 2005 and 2009, some €7.5 million in unauthorised allowances was paid out by universities to senior members of staff, already in receipt of high levels of pay. On top of this, there have been instances where excessive and unapproved pension arrangements were put in place for staff at the highest levels as recently as 2011.
Minister Ruairí Quinn T.D. said, “At a time when all areas of the public sector are being asked to do more with less resources, it is essential that universities adhere to, and are seen to adhere to, public sector pay policy.”
“No one sector should be able to operate outside of these strict parameters, as the university sector has done previously. While I recognise the desirability of universities retaining certain levels of autonomy, I believe the legislation I am proposing will strike the right balance between such autonomy and protecting the Exchequer at a time of financial crisis and growing student populations.”
The legislation will also address issues concerning university compliance with collective industrial relations agreements such as Croke Park. Recently, Trinity College has refused to implement a binding Labour Court finding on foot of a referral under the provisions of the Croke Park Agreement. This is contrary to the clear view expressed by the DES, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the implementation body that the Labour Court ruling is binding and must be implemented.
The new legislation, draft heads of which are published today, will give the Minister the power to oblige universities to adhere to such collective agreements.