Public sector - Lower pay, less jobs - Whose National Interest

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WSM member Joe King, a clerical officer in the public sector, responds to the calls for pay cuts and redundancies.

Q. We are told that the pay of senior public servants was more than 10% ahead of their private sector counterparts in 2006, while those on the very lowest grades earned up to 30% more. Is this sustainable?

The reality that some people in secretarial & unskilled jobs in the private sector get little more than minimum wage is a bloody stupid reason for cutting someone else’s pay. The logic of this is to reduce everyone’s pay to the very lowest rate, the minimum wage.

Why is it that it’s only the pay of ordinary working people that’s a problem? If there is a ‘need’ for pay cuts, why is the finger never pointed at people like the chief economist with Friends First Jim Power, the guy who is always on the radio talking about tearing up the pay deal? Oh well, if Jim says it then it must be necessary, doesn’t he get his big pay packet because he’s some sort of genius. Not seeing the recession coming was probably just an oversight.

This great expert is an economist with a company that is selling pensions to hard working people who are now watching their retirement hopes go down the drain while those who manage the pension funds swan around telling us to ‘tighten our belts’ while getting six-figure salaries.

Q. But surely, as most of you have secure jobs and a good pension scheme, you should be prepared to make sacrifices?

You would think there was something wrong with having a steady job! Should I fall to my knees and give thanks for my €33,800 a year? And yes, we do have a good pension. Why shouldn’t we? Pensions are wages which become payable when we retire; we fought hard to get them, to defend them, and to open them to part-time staff like office cleaners.

We have no apology to make for those achievements that are down to a high level of trade union organisation. For many of us our work rate is a wee bit less hurried than in the private sector. This doesn’t mean that we are dossing, just that there is a bit less stress. That’s something we should all be looking for.

Q. Do we need all the staff who are employed in the public sector, could we ‘trim the fat’?

Who are we talking about? Right wing commentators try to conjure up an image of tens of thousands of people sitting around in anonymous offices doing nothing remotely useful, but they can never tell us exactly who these people are. Do they want fewer teachers, or nurses, or fire fighters, or street cleaners? Or is it the less visible ‘backroom’ staff, like those who issue your driving licence, or process your tax rebate, or check the hygiene standards in meat plants?

It’s a myth that we have an oversized and unaffordable service. In the last major survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development, which Ireland is a member of, only South Korea and Mexico spent less per head.

Of course there are jobs that could be scrapped, a lot of senior management and consultants are about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. However the media never asks if we are getting ‘value for money’ from massively overpaid senior managers. There’s not a mention of HSE boss Brendan Drumm’s €358,000 or Coillte’s David Gunning who gets €409,000 or ESB boss Padraig McManus who did even better with €534,998. What about Dublin Airport Authority CEO Declan Collier who pocketed €698,000?

Would we really miss any of them? Does the world stop if they don’t turn up for work? If they are so essential why do they not have to be replaced when they go on holiday? After all, cleaners and receptionists have to be replaced or the office would be in chaos.

Q. Is that not a bit selfish, what about the national interest?

What ‘national interest’ are we talking about? Employers want to cut wages and taxes to increase their profits, workers need to increase their wages and shift more of the tax burden to the wealthy. The interests are opposed; there can be no common interest while the rule of the rich continues. The saga of the Corrib Gas Field gives us a good snapshot of how seriously our rulers take the idea of a ‘national interest’.

The Department of Natural Resources estimates the value of the oil and gas fields in Irish waters at €450 billion. Will any of this go to hospitals, schools or pensions? Not a chance, Shell and the other multinationals don’t have to pay a single cent in royalties. The Minister when this deal was signed, Ray Burke, is on record as telling a senior civil servant dealing with the oil companies, “give these fellas anything they want”.

The rich are very good at looking after their own, when are we going to cop on and do the same for our people?


This article is from Workers Solidarity 107 Jan/Feb 2009

You can read WS107 online or download the PDF file

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