Public Statement on Leixlip & District Credit Union, 14 December 1998.
As a former director of the Credit Union, I am strongly urging all members to attend the annual and special general meetings of the Union over the Christmas period to learn more about the working of the strike hit Union and make their feelings known to other members.
Just before I left the board of the Credit Union after two years of voluntary unpaid service as a director, I submitted a report to the Board entitled ``Wages and Staff: Leixlip Credit Union Background Report,'' and proposed changes.
My proposal was not accepted. The Board indicated it would consider the contents in more detail following the a.g.m. and the appointment of a new board.
In the light of the events of November 1998, when the staff went on strike for almost two weeks, it should be useful to consider this report, slightly edited to exclude personal income details. It runs as follows:
"Following the recommendation of the Irish League of Credit Union (ILCU Field Officer, I am recommending that an office manager or administrator be appointed from amongst the current staff.
This person would be a full time worker with overall responsibility for carrying on the business of the Union, under the direction of the Board.
He/she would manage staff and ensure important Union functions are carried out when require, make sure the office runs smoothly and report to the Board on any problems.
The manager would be required to attend Board meetings to answer questions and report to the Board, when and if required. This person should be appointed without delay.
My own view is the minimum salary of a manager in an institution of this size ought to be not less than £20,000 and ideally persons working under the manager should be earning at least £240 per week, considering the skills and knowledge/training required of them.
However, the figures produced in this report are not based on rises of this nature, although they ought to be the aim over a two to three year period. Salary reviews should take place on an annual basis, involving staff and/or their trade union if they wish to be so represented.
I am going to make the following points as background notes for our consideration:
1. The Credit Union's surplus for the year ended 30 September 1997 is around the £295,000 mark, a £48,412 (19.6%) rise on the previous year. Without any changes to the wages of the two low earning part time staff who joined this year, wages rises for the other three staff members, including a rise for Brendan Slattery, newly appointed as office manager, would add an extra £5,995 to the wages bill. This would bring it from £21,444 to £27,439, up 28%.
2. Putting this in the context of other credit unions surveyed by me, the first point to make is that our wages/honorarium for the year ending 30 September 1996, was 7.3% of our overall income , ie. £25,487. This is very low. The ILCU suggests that credit unions could target the wages bill at
around 14% of income. Some pay 18%. Most nearer to 10%.
When I examined nine Unions earlier this year (1997), I found only two had lower ratios than Leixlip, which has 4,285 members. The 3,098 Enfield union had 17.1%. Other ratios were: Avonmore (2,747 members), 13.3%; Naas (8,798 members), 9.6%; Dunboyne (2,677 Members), 6.4%; Ashbourne (3,136 members), 11.2%; Newbridge (8,962 members), 13.1%; Telecom (13,074 members), 2.4% and ESB (10,108 members), 3%.
4. In the same year, Leixlip had the second lowest ratio of overall spending to income, at 29%, of the nine. Only the ESB, on 24%, was lower. The third lowest was Telecom, on 31.9%, followed by Naas, on 34.6%. Enfield, Avonmore, Dunboyne, Ashbourne and Newbridge ranged between 40-48%.
5. On the ILCU Financial Management course I attended, it was recommended the employment of one staff member for every eight hundred active members was a reasonable guideline. With an estimated 3,000 active members in Leixlip, one would have 3.75 staff or 140 hours. We have 97.5 staff hours at the moment.
6. In the year to 30 September 1996, Leixlip paid its three staff members a total of £23,987 and total spending came to £102,450. The surplus was £246,588. All statutory requirements were met and our members received a generous dividend of 6%, plus an interest rebate, representing £173,595 and £22,932 respectively. A sum of £28,932 represents 11.7% of the surplus and a rise of £6,000 in wages would represent 2.4% of the surplus.
7. In the course of his discussion with the Board this year, one of the Field Officers made the following points, as summarised by me.
(a) he felt we should have an office administrator in charge of day to day operations as the Credit Union had grown very big
(b) he did not believe a voluntary treasurer/manager could be present all the time to keep an eye on day to day activities
(c) he said the staff in Leixlip had served the Union very well
(d) he believed the Union was living on "good will" and would be in trouble if it lost its experienced staff
(e) he suggested the decision of staff to join a trade union earlier this year was a sign of discontent.
In the light of all the above, I would strongly recommend that adequate salaries be paid to staff, from the point of view of keeping good and loyal staff, on the one hand, from fair play and good management on the other."
Getting back to the current position, I believe nothing was done about the above. The November strike was almost inevitable but should never have happened.
The staff at Leixlip have served members and numerous boards of directors very well and deserve better treatment.
They have asked for very little in monetary terms, indeed too little over the years, and yet, I believe, ultimately it was not money which brought them to the street. I believe the members supported them during the strike, even though it was not always easy.
The latest accounts for the year ending 30 September 1998, show that Leixlip members paid their staff, 5.4% of total income. The latest reports from Newbridge and Naas Credit Unions, for example, show they paid around twice that proportion.
The relationships between staff and a small number of directors, including the the chairman, Eamon Hartley, and current treasurer/manager , Alice Timothy, is very poor, too poor, for the proper management of the Credit Union, I believe.
Bad feelings and communication break down are, to a large extent, the reason for the exodus of a large number of voluntary directors over the past few years. Directors departing mid year were not always replaced, giving the chairman a casting vote on a number of important issues. There are only eight board members listed in the current report.
This turnover in directors is not good for the Union, something one of the Field Officers noted during meetings with us. It indicated problems, this neutral commentator noted.
It leaves the Union in a position whereby important power over the Union's assets could become concentrated in too few hand, and lead to obvious dangers, despite the good work of our Supervisory committee.
As a former board member, I was not happy listening to directors complaining about staff, and at the same time not having an adequate and regular opportunity to hear staff to have their say and discuss problems with the board, face to face.
At one point, when I suggested a meeting between staff and the board or its representatives, I was told I was causing trouble.
I believe the problems at the Union have hindered progress in a number of other areas and for this reason I believe the board members, in particular, the chairman and treasurer, should step aside, without prejudice to the time and voluntary commitment they have given to the Credit Union over the years.
I believe a refreshed board will be happier and attract more volunteers if this happens. I also believe staff will be much happier.
There is much to be done at this wonderful institution which has served the community of Leixlip and surrounding areas so well.
It may be worthwhile to strongly consider increasing the board by three or four people and spreading the workload. In particular, it would be better if some members were under 25 years, to represent the problems and viewpoints of our many younger people.
I would also like to see training for staff and directors and more regular communication with the members through the media or internal newsletters, on non -personal matters.
Many Credit Unions issues a quarterly newsletter, for example.
The decision to hold the A.G.M. next Sunday aftertenoon, 20 December at 3 p.m. and the Special General Meeting on 30 December, in the middle of the Christmas holidays, seems destined to minimise the number of members attending the meetings. While there are legal grounds for holding the s.g.m on the 30th, the a.g.m. timing is not helpful to members. I am urging all members to attend these meetings if possible and ask questions of board members, staff members.
I also believe the staff members who were on strike in November should be asked by members to speak at these meetings. Unfortunately, I cannot attend the a.g.m. and as a result I have taken time to prepare this statement as a contribution to a much needed debate.
Henry Bauress, 13 December. (More information: phone 01-6245732)