Kerry County Council, Ireland: Redeployment
Kerry County Council is an example of a local authority that has gone beyond existing equality legislation in promoting equality and diversity in the workplace and, in particular, by paying specific attention to older employees and service users.
Kerry County Council is the elected administrative body governing the county of Kerry in south-west Ireland, within the province of Munster. The county has an area of 4,746 square kilometres. There are three town councils in Kerry: Tralee, Killarney and Listowel. The administration of Kerry County Council is divided into the following directorates: Housing and Social Support; Roads and Transportation; Environment; Water Services and Fire Services; Economic Planning and Development; Community; Culture, Heritage and Recreation; and Corporate Services.
There are approximately 1,350 employees working for Kerry County Council (950 men and 400 women). The Council underwent significant restructuring five years ago under the programme 'Better Local Government'. This programme for change was launched in 1999 by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. In addition to the existing equality legislation, Kerry County Council has its own 'dignity at work and equality' policies. Social dialogue and collective bargaining in the Council is governed by the current social partnership agreement, Towards 2016.
Good practice today
Overall, Kerry County Council has a strong commitment to dignity, equality and diversity. Disability awareness training has been provided to a substantial number of employees, which enabled the Council to carry out disability audits on a number of its facilities. The Council has also been awarded the Excellence Through People accreditation, which is Ireland’s national standard for HR development. This was awarded in recognition of the Council’s policy of promoting the development of employees to their maximum potential.
When the Employment Equality Act and Equal Status Act were introduced, Kerry County Council initiated training on all nine grounds involved (i.e. gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race and membership of the Traveller community). Equality teams were set up in all local authorities around the country. Initially, these were only responsible for employment-related equality issues. However, Kerry was one of the first county councils to extend the remit of its equality team to all areas of equality, including equal status and delivery of services. Awareness talks are held for employees on, among other things, race, age and Traveller issues. The equality lead team produces an operational plan each year.
With regard to recruitment, Kerry County Council aims for a good balance of gender and age, and is an equal opportunities employer.
Kerry County Council also operates a retention policy. Exit interviews are available to employees who are leaving, to explore the reasons for their departure and to see whether any lessons can be learned for the future. On the whole, however, the staff turnover rate is low. If an employee is having difficulty in their current role due to illness, disability or age, the Council works with the local FÁS office (Ireland’s national training and employment authority) to provide an adult career guidance service to re-assess their skills and redeploy them if that is their wish. The Staff Welfare Office and the HR department of Kerry County Council have an open-door policy and offer their services in full confidentiality. The organisation also operates a flexible sick leave policy, with fixed entitlements and a flexible 'easing in' period on returning to work.
The Council offers a course on 'Well-being for Older Employees'. This is open to employees of all ages, but the content is designed to attract older staff, aged about 50 and over. The course covers definitions of health, eating well, the stages of change model (see www.uri.edu/research/cprc/TTM/StagesOfChange.htm), physical activity and dealing with stress. The course is delivered in three sessions, each session lasting two hours. Upon completion, it is hoped that participants will be able to:
- identify the dimensions of health;
- assess eating habits;
- identify healthy food choices based on the food pyramid;
- complete a personal plan in relation to eating well;
- identify stages of change for eating well and physical activity;
- know the current physical activity recommendations;
- define the components of fitness;
- plan and implement a safe and effective exercise session;
- list the benefits of and barriers to physical activity;
- identify strategies to overcome barriers;
- outline long- and short-term physical activity goals and draw up a personal plan;
- define the concept of stress;
- list coping strategies for dealing with stress;
- complete a personal plan in relation to dealing with stress.
Other services offered by Kerry County Council include retirement and midlife planning courses, given both by the Council itself and with the help of external agencies. Family members are permitted to attend. Meetings are also organised to discuss pension arrangements.
'Age-wise' workshops have been organised for employees of Kerry County Council. The aim of these workshops is to challenge negative attitudes towards ageing and older people. The learning outcomes of these workshops were as follows:
- participants understood the personal, cultural and structural effects of ageism;
- participants gained information on facts and figures relating to ageing in Ireland;
- participants identified instances of discrimination against older people;
- participants devised strategies on how ageism may be countered in the community or workplace.
Kerry County Council, in association with Workplace Partnership, introduced for the first time A Long Service Award Scheme in 2006, with the aim of formally acknowledging the commitment given by employees to the people of Kerry and to Kerry County Council. Employees and retirees (from 2000 onwards) with 35 years of service were acknowledged at an Awards Ceremony, held in the Council Chambers on 13th October 2006, followed by a buffet in the Conference Room. A presentation of a picture and a hand-painted scroll was presented to each recipient by the County Manager and the Mayor of Kerry. Each recipient was allowed to bring a guest to the Awards Ceremony. In all, 68 employees were thus honoured.
Finally, a Mass is organised by Kerry County Council each year. This is a celebration in which employees — past and present and those that are deceased — are honoured. Many retired members of staff attend this event.
Contact: Yvonne Blennerhasset, Staff Welfare Officer
Website: www.kerrycoco.ie, including:
Kerry Corporate Plan (PowerPoint presentation)
Kerry County Council (2005) Kerry: Local Authorities Annual Report 2005. Tralee: Kerry County Council.