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The public sector wage claims December 2, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Stephen Collins was once more singing the old song in relation to the public sector in the Irish Times. But why bring this up – perhaps because the very next day the polls suggested that that song has lost its resonance and he himself hints in the course of the piece that that might be the case.

If the public service unions are allowed by a fragile Government to bully their way to unsustainable pay increases then all of the sacrifices of the past years will have been set to naught and the road cleared for the demagogues itching for political chaos.
The bottom line is that if the substantial public pay increases being sought over and above the Lansdowne Road agreement are conceded them the outcome will be worsening public services for those who need them most or tax increases for already heavily taxed middle-income earners.

And he’s found ammunition, of sorts:

The appalling injustice of this was spelled out in a courageous letter to The Irish Times on Thursday from serving public servant Arthur Boland, who put it in a nutshell.
“I have job security, and when I retire I will receive a lump sum and a guaranteed pension. So I am very well off compared to many people working in the private sector and compared to the elderly, the disabled and the unemployed who have to depend on the relatively meagre State benefits to support themselves.”

But there’s a problem. Firstly not all public sector workers are in such a good position. Many are on relatively low wages – furthermore, and surely Collins can’t be deaf to this, there are already calls to alter that ‘guaranteed pension’. Indeed although I’m on contract to the PS, those I know in that sector are fairly convinced that they’re unlikely to receive said ‘guaranteed’ pensions in the future. Collins continues:

The blunt facts of the matter are incontrovertible. Public services pay is the biggest item of government spending and accounts for one third of all expenditure.

And then writes:

According to the Central Statistics Office, public service pay is 20 per cent higher than that in the private sector.
Economist John Fitzgerald reckons that even if its is accepted that public servants have higher educational qualifications they are still on average paid 10 per cent more than their private sector counterparts.

There’s more. Add to that another factor, that private sector wages are often low. And a further factor. The lack of provision in the private sector in relation to occupational pensions.
Then Collins takes a further swerve… he argues that unions are painting their members as the ‘most serious victims’ of the crisis. Not sure that’s correct. But…it gets worse:

Its seems that just as in the Brexit referendum in the UK or the Donald Trump election campaign in the United States, facts don’t matter.
If something is repeated often enough and loudly enough it is taken to be true by those who have a vested interest in its acceptance or those gullible enough to be swayed by the empty rhetoric.

I find that frankly absurd. And interestingly Collins notes implicitly that public sympathy is a lot more with than against PS workers later in the piece (I wonder did he have advance warning of the sort of polling that was seen in the latest RedC/SBP polls where fully two-thirds support PS wage increases?):

Despite this the public service unions are managing to successfully portray their members as the most serious victims of the economic crisis who deserve pay “restoration” in full.


When key public servants like gardaí, doctors and nurses go on strike the public tends to blame the government of the day rather than the strikers for the disruption.

Surely not Stephen. How could any resist the arguments of the orthodoxy?


1. CMK - December 2, 2016

Re: public sector pension, I think we can safely say they are the only piece of ‘family silver’ left for the trade union bureaucrats to trade in exchange for a ‘a place at the table’.

The next big deal will include some element of an attack on pensions. However, this will be extremely problematic for the government and their brothers and sisters in the upper echelons of the trade union movement. Firstly, I think the systematic shafting of new entrants that has been a key feature of the public sector over the past five years, has run its course. The naked injustices of it are well established by the teachers, but of course they cover all sectors of the public sector. A deal which brings in even worse pensions for new entrants, effectively a third tier, just will not fly at all.

The second point is that there is absolutely zero scope for greater ‘productivity’ from public sector workers. The sector is running on goodwill at the moment and attempts to lengthen hours more, cut holidays more, reduce sick leave entitlements even further, etc will all be faced, I think, by workers.

It’s a sign of Collins’ political tone deafness that he, and the rest of the orthodoxy, don’t seem to realise that they got everything (and more) from public sector workers that could be given and now the sentiment is, to draft in a useful phrase from another time, ‘Payback time!’

The only things that will work for public sector workers in the short, medium and long terms are things that mean substantial resource allocations from government. These are: substantial pay rises and increased recruitment, If the government won’t cough up then there will be confrontation. Their allies in the trade union movement have preciously little credibility after the last 10 years so they also face an existential crisis if they attempt another sell-out. Paradoxically, Collins and the media orthodoxy merchants are doing their side of the argument a huge disservice by doubling down on the ‘No Surrender!’ rhetoric over public sector pay. A confrontation between workers and government will only be resolved by conceding bigger pay rises than would be envisaged in any successor to Lansdown Road. If Collins et al wanted to assist the government they would urging bringing forward the Lansdown Road pay increases and immediate negotiation of a successor agreement.

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2. Anthony - December 5, 2016

I wonder if the changes to public sector alluded to by CMK is a factor in the attitude of the public as much as knowing & having a personal stake in the lives of public sector workers as mentioned in the piece above?

For years we had what seemed like a daily deluge of stories about pay and conditions in the public service. Many stories surprised others in the public service as these things were a million miles away from their own experiences. People working in the private sector were disgusted at so much of this at a time when suffering pay cut, jobs were being lost, homes under threat, friends and family emigrating etc.

In the last couple of years the effects of cuts in the public service have been felt more acutely and the impact has been pronounced on hospital trollies, accommodation & homeless crisis especially, low pay, etc. Stories about the public sector pay or ‘excesses’ are no longer the kind that dominate the media but people dying on the streets, children not getting access to medication, over crowded hospitals, elderly people suffering on trollies, home help hours not meeting the actual need of people. Add in the two tier pay scales amongst teachers, gardaí coming within hours of an actual strike, defence forces discontent bubbling to the surface and it becomes a little less mystifying why there would be support for a restoration of public pay.


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