Press Release - Annualised Hours in the Irish Prison Service

The Comptroller and Auditor General has prepared a special report on an examination of the annualised hours system in the Irish Prison Service. The report was presented to the Houses of the Oireachtas today, 2 August 2016.

Historically, overtime levels were very high in the Prison Service, peaking at a cost of €59 million a year in 2002 and 2003. In 2005, the Prison Service introduced an annualised hours system to replace overtime. Under the new system, prison officers contract to work a fixed number of additional hours annually (to a maximum of 360 hours), over standard rostered hours.

The examination considered the impact of the annualised hours system on the total number of hours required to operate the Prison Service, on overall costs, on individual prison officer’s pay and on levels of sick leave taken.

Main Findings

Impact on individual prison officers

Following the introduction of the annualised hours system, there has been a reduction of 49% in the average number of hours worked by prison officers over and above their basic work week.

The cap on the number of additional hours that a prison officer may contract to work has ended the practice of individuals working extremely high numbers of hours and there is now a more even distribution of earnings from additional hours.

Prison officers are paid for contract additional hours at a rate of 1.8 times the basic salary rate. In addition, a related pensionable allowance of 8% of basic pay is paid to each prison officer irrespective of the number of additional hours they contract to work. Average earnings have not changed significantly in cash terms for individual prison officers since the introduction of the new system.

Write-off Hours

Prison officers may not be called on to work the full amount of their contracted additional hours but are paid for all of them. Additional hours not worked are called ‘write-off hours’. The average level of write-off hours across the Prison Service is 15%. However, there is significant variation in the level of write-off hours across the 14 prison institutions.

Sick Leave

The annualised hours system was considered in negotiations for a number of years, before it was introduced. The Prison Service anticipated a reduction of around one third in sick leave relative to 2001 levels, following the introduction of the annualised system. However, there was a sharp increase in the level of sick leave taken between 2001 and 2005. As a result, even though the incidence of sick leave fell significantly after the introduction of the annualised system, the reduction in sick leave levels anticipated by the Prison Service has not been achieved.

Cost of the Annualised Hours System

The Prison Service estimated that the new system would provide savings of €31 million a year. This was not achieved. The average annual net cost saving as a result of the introduction of the annualised hours system is an estimated €5.5 million a year. Those savings were partially offset by once-off lump sum payments, totaling €41 million, made to serving prison officers for adopting the new system. As a result, the estimated net saving over the period 2006 to 2014 was around €8 million.

Notes for Editors

The report was finalised on 30 May 2016 and sent to the Minister for Justice and Equality on 10 June 2016. The Minister is required to ensure that the report is laid before Dáil Éireann within three months of receiving it.

The Comptroller and Auditor General is an independent constitutional officer with responsibility for the audit of public funds. He reports to Dáil Éireann.