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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 16, 2009 @ 11:06 am

    Teachers’ and Doctors’ grievances – public service or self-service

    Harry McGee

    The ghost of Easters past. Politicians vamoosed for a fortnight or more. If they left the phones on, more likely than not you would hear the long continuous beep telling you they had accumulated a couple of air miles during their break.

    As a political hack, slim pickings awaited you.

    You foraged and rummaged along the long acre in the vain hope that you might chance upon a grassy knoll (yep, it’s a corny metaphor but it works on so many levels!)

    News wise, the only thing that gave real fillage during long gap were the conferences from teachers and medics, of interest (to be brutally honest about it) predominantly to teachers and medics.

    And here we come to the point. What’s going on at both sets of conferences is no longer of interest only to sectional groups. We all have ownership now. There are two issues being discussed at both conferences – one broad; the other narrow. The broad issue is about the impact of cutbacks on the health and education sectors. The narrow issue has to do with pay. And I’m going to concentrate on that for the remainder of this post.

    I have the impression (and it might be wholly wrong in this) that the broader issue is being used as a fig leaf for the real issue… the hit cutbacks in pay, pensions, fees and conditions.

    Of course, the unions are charged with representing the interests of their members. But when you look at the figures, do either (especially the medics) have any real basis for complaint… especially when so many others are making pain.

    John Carr, the secretary general of the INTO, said that teachers were being asked to carry the can for criminal capitalist bankers.

    It sounded great. But the truth, of course, is far more complex than that. It’s far to easy to blame the bankers as being the authors of all our woes. And it’s also easy to blame politicians in a blanket kind of fashion. For everything. But if truth be told most of us were partly complicit in it.  Sure, those who lead and who directed must carry their share of responsibility. But we were not all lemmings or village idiots, programmed to obey orders and do what we were told. Most people bought into this collective or communal sense that there was no downside, now or ever ever. We were all duped. But we must recognise that we were dupers as well as the dupees. The teacher who berated Brian Lenihan so emotionally on the Pat Kenny show owns an apartment in Croatia. Nobody vice-gripped her into buying it. Our human frailties – a pinch of illogical hope, a dollop of greed, a tablespoon of mé-féinirism – were all there to be seen.

    No such fantasies any more. Times are tough. There have been a couple of reports in recent days that TDs and Senators might be able to backtrack and recoup some of the expenses, ministerial pensions and seniority increments that they lost in the Budget. The Independent carries the latest this morning. That better not be true. Because no other cutbacks in Irish society will have any credibility if this cohort reneges on that undertaking.

    To the teachers: RTE ran a story this morning the basis of which is that male teachers earn €8,000 more than their female counterparts. Of course, that inequality should be addressed.

    But I had to take a double-take when I heard what the average salaries were. €64,000 for males and €56,000 for females. I can remember Joe O’Toole as secretary general of the INTO urging teachers to accept benchmarking which he characterised as as ATM. How right he was. By any standard, teachers are well-paid, especially when you take holidays, pensions and permanency into account.

    How can they argue against the pension levy  when so many others  in Irish society are being given ‘an bata agus an bóthar’ (the stick and the road… or the P45) or being told to take huge reductions in salaries or go on a three-day week. Private sector pensions have also taken a wallop from which they will never recover.

    And to consultants. Is it just me or does the offer of €280,000 per annum for the new contract sound obscene? Sure, medics have to go through more years and training to get to the top. But is the huge premium they get justified or warranted? The contract agreed in 1997 was a joke. Immediately, there was a dispute between the Department of Health and consultants as to whether the public patient requirement was 39 hours or 33 hours per week. Of course, the dispute was never settled and the 33 hours per week prevailed for many, if not most, consultants.

    Mary Harney was on Questions and Answers some time back saying that the HSE would get more bang for their buck from consultants. According to Harney, they would work longer hours, they would form part of a multi-disciplinary team, they would be available for weekend rota work.

    But where is the detail? Where is the stipulation that will make it apparent to the public that these schedules will be adhered to.

    In March 2007, the then Comptroller and Auditor General John Purcell investigated the consultants’ contract for a Value for Money Report.

    Its findings were very disquieting. I was shocked when I read it then. And I was still shocked when I read it this morning. This was at a time when consultants were earnign €200,000 for their public work (how much more did they earn from their private practices?). The lack of monitoring and the clear bias towards private work among some consultants is apparent from the report.

    A couple of phrases came to mind. The most printable of them was: “Having your cake and eating it too”. On the new contract, for €280,000 a year, you would have to make sure (and show in the most transparent way) that the agreed schedules were being worked to the full.

    The situation outlined by the C&AG was simply outrageous.

    Here is the relevant extract from his summary:

    Monitoring Consultants’ Commitments
    “The examination found that key elements of the contract were undefined or lacked sufficient clarity to allow for smooth implementation.

    There is a fundamental difference of interpretation between the HSE and the consultants about the number of hours to be worked under the contract. The HSE claims that 39 hours per week, inclusive of six hours of unschedulable activities, is provided for, while the consultants contend that a 33 hour week is what was contracted for. It is disappointing that this matter has not been resolved in the ten years since the contract was signed in 1997.

    The 33 scheduled weekly hours are divided into 11 three hour sessions, comprising 7-8 clinical sessions and 3-4 flexible sessions covering training, research and management activities. There are also provisions for on-call availability. The contract envisaged the production of schedules which would be agreed with hospital managements in order to show how the service commitment would be delivered by each consultant.

    The examination found that, while most hospitals had received work schedules from consultants after their initial appointment to the post, these were not generally subject to systematic review, and in many cases, remained unaltered for many years even where consultants’ delivery of sessions had changed. Most hospitals did not request updated schedules from consultants.

    There was a general lack of information available in hospitals to enable managers to satisfy themselves that consultants’ contractual commitments were being discharged. There was a particular difficulty in establishing exactly how flexible sessions are delivered and what gets done during those sessions.
    Although there was a belief among hospital managers that many consultants exceed their contractual commitment, this cannot be substantiated in the absence of reliable records.

    The contract allows consultants to treat private patients while discharging their obligation to the public hospital. Accordingly, in addition to their salary, consultants receive fees for the treatment of private patients. While there is universal entitlement to treatment in the public hospital system, there is also a policy to limit private treatment in these hospitals to a designated level set by the Minister by reference to bed numbers.

    The contract provides that a consultant’s overall proportion of private to public patients should reflect the ratio of public to private beds as designated by the Minister at individual hospital level. Overall, 20% of all beds in public hospitals are designated as private beds. In practice, private patient treatment in publichospitals exceeds 20% in all three categories of clinical activity – elective, emergency inpatient and day case. To the extent that private patients are accommodated and treated in excess of the designated level, there are implications for equity of access. It also means that less resources than intended are being applied for the treatment of public patients.

    There is considerable tension between the sessional nature of consultants’ work and the freedom to engage in private practice which could give rise to conflicting professional responsibilities. There has been no meaningful attempt to monitor the level of consultants’ private practice for its impact on the fulfilment of the contractual commitment within public hospitals. Firm information on consultants’ existing work patterns is essential to cost effective delivery of consultant services. Ultimately, the attainment of value for money from any new contract will largely depend on how well organisational and system change complements and supports the revised arrangements. Otherwise, there is a risk that the State will end up paying more for, what might turn out to be, the same quantum and quality of service.”

    Purcell’s succint summary is so telling. The IMO will have to make out a very powerful case that its campaign against cuts or reductions in professional fees is motivated by the public interest and not be self interest. And in a similar vein – though their salaries are far more modest – the same onus must fall on teachers to show they are not just carping about pay cuts.

    • mary rose says:

      Whilst browsing in The Times( London) I noticed a list of the ten highest paid leaders in the world. Guess who is in fourth place? Could it be our Brian and why is he in a list of world leaders? surely you would have to lead to be on it?

    • An Fear Bolg says:

      That teacher with the apartment in Croatia sent me into a rage. She also remortgaged her house a few years ago. Now she thinks it’s all the goverment’s fault. She herself stated that the decisions to buy in Croatia and remortgage in Ireland were both made “stupidly”. Sympathetic and all, but yes, these are your stupid decisions.

      There was another teacher on Liveline the other day – he’s 35 and only has 9.75 hours contracted, guaranteed teaching a week. Joe Duffy-fill-in said “I imagine that doesn’t give you a living wage”. He agreed – about €26,000. He gets more for subbing, etc. I’m not saying €26,000 is a great wage but if I could get that for 9.75 hours work a week (plus a few extra for prep, marking homework blah blah blah), I’d take it.

      Teachers think dealing with a few snotty punk kids makes them higher-calling-martyrs. Try a few days in a real private sector job. Try private sector conditions and lack of security/pension/general cossetting etc. Both sectors are demanding, some jobs in either more so than others. Move on.

      I’m in the private sector and between Budgets, pay cuts and pay rise/bonus forgone, will be down around 30% or more of what salary for my position should be.

      But I have no problem with that, them’s the breaks. And I appreciate that I’m comparatively well paid.

      One major point the teachers miss: if someone’s employer is being paid less than before, they cannot pay the employee as before. Teachers’ employer is being paid less (taxes), so ditto, no? Spare us the “we didn’t cause the crisis” cant (quite apart from the fact that they actually did, to a large extent).

    • David says:


      Don’t you think this narrative has been flogged to death already? The ‘we were all duped’, ‘we are all in this together’ mantra is becoming embarrassing, that is, where it is peddled by the great and the good in the Irish Times, Examiner and Independent.

      How much more difficult it was in the last ten to discourage friends and family from buying that property in sunny Bulgaria when the prevailing view in the media was that it was onward and upward forever. A total absense of investigatively minded, though well paid, journalism still dominates the Irish news media.

      Recently, this investigatively mindedness appears to have surfaced, but scratching just below the surface one finds little more than misplaced indignation.

      Address the disparity and we might begin to take you seriously.

    • Ornaith says:

      (1) Public consultants are overpaid and have been allowed to take advantage of private sector “opportunities” alongside what should be their full-time job, i.e. in the public health sector. (The underlying problem is our two-tier healthcare system)
      (2) Teachers are not overpaid. The numbers quoted, if correct, seem perfectly reasonable to me. After all, teaching our children is one of the most important jobs in our society; certainly of more social value than, e.g., stockbroking. Teaching is also very stressful and difficult work, and incidentally, much of it is done outside school hours (something conveniently ignored by some).
      (3) Why is it considered some sort of luxury to have a pension? I find it worrying that this is becoming “orthodox” in public debate in Ireland. Every worker should have a pension. Taking away pensions from a scapegoated group of workers will not do anything to secure pensions for those who do not have them.
      (4) Pay austerity for teachers does not make sense in an economic depression, for it takes money out of the economy. Lower wages= lower spending= less business done= job losses= higher social welfare costs, less tax revenue, less spending= less business done=… and so on. No economy ever deflated its way out of a recession or depression.

    • dealga says:

      Ornaith, are teachers some kind of special breed of consumer?…

      David if you have access to the Irish Times archive you may find these two articles from July 2006 depressingly informative:

      Marc Coleman – He had a good run but now the Tiger is in trouble

      Finance Minister Cowen (in reply) – Headless chicken analogy for our economy does not fly.

      The articles were there alongside the cheerleading ones. People chose to ignore them.

    • I find those teacher figures hard to believe. I am a male primary teacher with all the requisite honours qualifications and am on a total of €38k – which means I come out with €500 net a week.

      Despite having a permanent contract there is no guarantee of a job for me next September as I am an as-yet-unprobated NQT and my school is likely to lose a position due to the cuts.

      Had I stayed in my previous job in a still-profitable private sector firm I’d be in a managerial role on about €50k.

      I’m sure they’ve added principals into the mix above but looking at the scales in my INTO diary I still find it hard to believe.

    • David says:

      Thanks Deaglan,

      If only Marc had been quite so in touch with reality every other day he turned up for work eh?

      Its not much of a coincidence, I guess, that this emphatic response came only months after Cowen and chums invested 12.5m in The Carr Mills apartments.


      He apparently noted this in the Dail, but we are only hearing about it now. From an English paper.

      “All will be well – if politicians don’t meddle in the property market.” [Marc Coleman, January 25, 2007]
      “Nothing exciting – or dangerous – is in prospect for the market over the next two or three years.” [Marc Coleman, March 1 2007]
      “Iceland for us is an inspiration in terms of business and also an indicator of business potential if it’s worked well.” [John Conroy, December 1 2006]
      “Dr Brian Lucey, a lecturer in finance at Trinity College, says that mortgage lenders will be able to grow their business activity through high-interest loans to people with poor credit records – known as “sub-prime” mortgages.” [Laura Slattery, February 14, 2006]
      “Sub-prime mortgage market reigns supreme.” [Laura Slattery, January 19, 2007]
      “Bricks and mortar beat equities hands down.” [Orna Mulcahy, December 31, 2005]
      “Construction industry likely to avoid crash landing.” [Barry O'Halloran, January 3, 2007]
      “The Irish property market is nothing like a real speculative bubble.” [Oliver O'Connor, October 29, 1999]
      “Where in the world should foreign property buyers go next?” [Frances O'Rourke, December 7 2006]
      “On balance, the data indicate a favourable outlook for the housing market.” [John McCartney, April 5 2007]

    • Una Dunphy says:

      Just back from TUI congress, checking up on what has gone on over past three days in the outside world. I support a family of seven ( eight in three weeks) on point 9 of the common basic scale plus a pass degree allowance, that’s 46.400. Like many teachers in the public sector, particularly in the TUI, I have worked in both the private and the public sector. I will not have 40 years service by 65 and will not therefore get the full pension. I now pay a 2% levy along with 270 per month for the pension levy. I did not buy any property except for the roof over my head. My partner who qualifies for uemployment benefit only receives 4 days and not 6, because his days work was 6.5 hours and the social welfare deciding officer decided that 30 hours equated to four days work. Early childhood payment has been cut for my 5 and a half year old, halved for my 2 year old and wont exist for the new arrival. We await the decision on taxing child benefit. IF I owned a foreign property I think we would probably live in it at this stage.

    • Dan Sullivan says:


      (1) Public consultants are overpaid and have been allowed to take advantage of private sector “opportunities” alongside what should be their full-time job, i.e. in the public health sector. (The underlying problem is our two-tier healthcare system)

      It has also been the case the teachers have long been able to use their extensive summer holidays to work in other areas too. Many (not all of course) teachers work in bars and other seasonal tourism related jobs over the summer and have done so for decades.

      (2) Teachers are not overpaid. The numbers quoted, if correct, seem perfectly reasonable to me. After all, teaching our children is one of the most important jobs in our society; certainly of more social value than, e.g., stockbroking. Teaching is also very stressful and difficult work, and incidentally, much of it is done outside school hours (something conveniently ignored by some).

      moi) Ah the most important job argument. Teacher’s do a hard job but it is well paid and once you are permanent somewhere you’ve got security that many in the private sector can’t ever imagine. But the old style world of being the Máistir up there with the priest and the doctor in the parish stopped once people learned to read. and another thing about how hard it is, some teachers have it harder than others but we don’t pay them in respect of how hard it is. The unions wouldn’t stand for that happening, instead we must pay all teachers as if it was equally hard instead of paying the best and hardest working the most while paying those who have an easier time of it less.

      And what is this about much of the working being out of hours? For primary teachers one would agree that homework may well be corrected after school hours but those hours are from what from 9 to 3? And as for lessons plans it’s not like teaching 8 year old changes massively over the years, once you’ve your lesson plans done you probably spend a week before each year starts again revising them and that’s pretty much it. Many people in the private sector work from 8 in the morning until 5/6 at night and often in the tech sector you will have to do an hour or two from home because you’re working with people in the US and Asia and that’s when teleconference have to be held. oh and remember when the ASTI demanded to be benchmarked against people in that sector – where was that benchmarking when the tech sector hit the skids in 2000? Or now? Benchmarking was a con job.

      3) Why is it considered some sort of luxury to have a pension? I find it worrying that this is becoming “orthodox” in public debate in Ireland. Every worker should have a pension. Taking away pensions from a scapegoated group of workers will not do anything to secure pensions for those who do not have them.

      moi) Pensions aren’t a luxury but they must be paid for and most of that must come from the person themselves, it’s not going to come out of the sky. And if you say employers must pay for it then your employers are all other taxpayers and why should they fund your pension?

      (4) Pay austerity for teachers does not make sense in an economic depression, for it takes money out of the economy. Lower wages= lower spending= less business done= job losses= higher social welfare costs, less tax revenue, less spending= less business done=… and so on. No economy ever deflated its way out of a recession or depression.

      moi) Ok let’s understand something here, not paying teachers from borrowings is not an austerity measure and it doesn’t take money out of the economy. The money is already not in the economy, borrowing to put it into the economy by way of paying teachers yet more money of all people is one of the worst ways of pump priming the economy. Where do you think taxes actually come from? The money isn’t there to pay the wages.

      And don’t get me started on doctors!

    • Katy says:

      Every time I think the people get it – that they accept their part in this economic mess then someone such as that teacher comes along proving me wrong … this woman teaches kids – what I don’t know but don’t we all hope that it isn’t economics?

    • Niall says:

      When comparing the public and the private sector people often confuse certain issues. I can’t see how it is justifiable to say that teachers or other public servants should be taxed more than those in the private sector who make a similar amount. If a doctor or accountant make 50,000 then why should they pay less than a teacher?

      The pension issue is tricky, but one should probably remember that public servants who are entitled to generous/adequate pension provisions are forced to contibute to such schemes. If this pension levy was about making the system fairer, then the government might have introduced a range of pension options to public servants and applied the levy only to traditional pensions.

      Please remember that this government has applied the pension levy not only to public servants who receive decent pensions, but also to many in the community sector (such as the Irish Wheelchair Organisation) even though such workers do not get a public sector pension.

    • dealga says:


      Who said that public sector workers should be taxed more?

      The argument is that they should be paid less or there should be fewer of them. If the unions were honest they would support efforts to sort out the chaff, therefore protecting the wages of the wheat.


      I didn’t mean to imply journalists were on top of their game. And I’d love to see a Nick Davies-esque book on Irish journalism’s role in cheerleading Celtic Tiger 2.0. In fact Eamon Dunphy tore strips off Fintan O’Toole on Newstalk recently on this very matter.

      My point, simply, was that there were times when bouts of honesty appeared in the press and the great and the good in both public and private life ignored or dismissed it simply because they wanted to see (or read) no evil.

      Ms Dunphy,
      One could argue that if making ends meet was so difficult that maybe having seven children wasn’t the wisest of life choices.

      And now that times are tough it will be interesting to see if society is as favourably disposed to the cost of covering maternity leave for working mothers as before.

    • Niall says:

      The pension levy is equivalent to taxing them more. It’s just a tax by another name.

      Dan, regarding permanent jobs for teachers, as far as I know, there are no permanent jobs for teachers anymore. Instead, if they do x number of hours in a school for a few years they get a contract of indefinite employment. This means that they are promised work, but that work could be anywhere. It also seems to be the department’s policy where possible to ensure that new teachers get x-1 min per year.

      If a teacher manages to get a summer job, then that’s their business, so long as they pay tax on it. If they earn enough to push themselves on to a higher rate of tax, then hurrah for everyone and if they don’t, why should we hold it against them? Also in regards holidays, am i mistaken or is it not the case that the holidays teachers receive exist because they are what suited students and not teachers? I don’t know about teachers, but I know that SNAs who work in a typical primary school receive the same pay as those who work in certain special schools in spite of the fact that these SNAs generally have far shorter holidays and often work longer days.

      Finally, in regards the disparity in pay between male and female teachers, surely this can be largely explained by the fact that male teachers are generally older and as such receive more pay as a result?

    • David says:

      I didn’t mean to imply that journalists weren’t at the top of their game. I meant to imply that the media was self evidently complicit.

      I’d be interested to hear that Dunphy vs O’Toole bout if you have a link?

    • dealga says:

      Well David I agree, but only to an extent. When it suited journalists they cried foul, people still chose to ignore them or chose not to use their own critical faculties.

      It was the lunchtime show on Newstalk on either the Tuesday or Wednesday before Easter. But I don’t think they’re podcast.

    • David says:

      Found it. Thanks, well worth a listen.

      The Lunchtime show with Eamon Keane – Weekly highlights
      The Lunchtime Show on Newstalk, April 10th


    • Una Dunphy says:

      A year on and what does any of it matter.

    • Geraldine says:

      Dan the man, you know nothing about teaching! 9 to 3 my arse, f**king full time job, i start at 9, up since 7 to travel to work to put up with little shits until 4pm and then go home to do worksheets, handouts, posters, lesson plans etc etc etc until at least 8pm. If you call that easy, be my f**king guest and have a go!

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