Public service reform needed now as we've paid for it

 

The nonsense of turning up for work, taking the wages but punishing innocent third parties is not a strike – it’s a State-sponsored sulk, writes SARAH CAREY

WHAT DO the Greens and the trade union leaders have in common? They’re both willing to endure any humiliation so they can cling on to power. That’s the only conclusion I can draw from this supposedly “revolutionary” deal. The pay cuts will not be reversed. The workers will deliver the reforms offered last December in an effort to avoid those cuts. When these reforms are independently verified, the Government won’t make further cuts and maybe in a few years, if there’s any money, they’ll consider some reversals for the lower paid.

It’s another fabulous Fianna Fáil fudge. Peace process, banking crisis and now industrial action – buy peace today for the promise of possibly doing something tomorrow. As for the rest of us, we get the reforms benchmarking was supposed to deliver eight years ago. Some revolution.

Seriously. Even this darling of the right-wing conspiracy can’t understand why the only revolution isn’t the one inside the trade union movement. I disagree with the entire premise of the protest, but I like to disagree with opponents I can respect. The gap between what the trade union leaders say they want, how they manage protest and what they end up delivering is so wide that I truly don’t understand why they still have jobs.

There are only two possible reasons why they conduct themselves as they do. One is that, privately, they fully accept that pay cuts are inevitable, and everything else is anger management. The other is that they are addicted to the power conferred by dramatic late-night negotiations.

If they possessed any integrity there are other possibilities open to them. If they genuinely accepted that public sector pay cuts are unavoidable, they could inform and persuade their members of the reality and spare us the drama. If they believed the cuts were avoidable, they’d protest properly. Forget this “industrial action” business. If you really think you’ve got right on your side, then let’s have a proper strike. Put everyone on the streets, every day, without pay, until the Government caves. That’s integrity. This nonsense of turning up for work, taking the wages but punishing innocent third parties is not a strike – it’s a State-sponsored sulk. No wonder the Government didn’t feel the need to give in.

Still, whether their motives are base or not, the end of the campaign is good news for those depending on public services and for public sector workers who need saving from themselves. They were starting to compete with bankers in the unpopularity stakes.

The unions insist this is because their members are victims of “an orchestrated campaign” against them. It grates every time I hear the accusation.

Campaigns are by their nature organised, so the tautology is annoying. Worse, if there is a campaign, no one’s invited me to any of the meetings. Conspiring over a power lunch would be great fun, but not a smidgeon of orchestration comes my way. Either they’re taking me for granted, or there is no campaign. I can’t imagine they’d be silly enough to risk the former, so it must be the latter. There is no campaign.

There is simply a country divided. There are those who go to bed at night terrified because they have no job and have no idea when one will turn up. There are those still employed who wonder whether tomorrow is the day the boss tells them the job is gone. There are those with no benefits because they were self-employed. There are small business owners buckling under the strain of wondering how much longer they can stick the collapse.

Each of them look at public sector workers in possession of that priceless commodity – certainty – and wonder how they have the nerve to complain. No one needs to organise the communal sense of disbelief that rather than protesting, someone with a permanent job doesn’t get down on their knees at night and give thanks for their good fortune and that gold standard pension which will be determined on their pre-cut salary.

The question now is whether this deal will be accepted. I can see why a self-centred trade union member shouldn’t accept this no-win deal from their morally corrupt leaders. Let me assume now that not all public sector workers are self-centred. I know they aren’t because some of them contact me occasionally to let me know of their embarrassment when their vocal and angry colleagues behave badly.

Why should they vote to implement reforms now in the hope of staving off more cuts in the future? One word – benchmarking.

Benchmarking was not conceived to deliver pay rises purely to close a gap, real or imagined, between private and public sector pay. The benchmarking report benchmarked not pay, but pay and productivity. It recommended that 75 per cent of the pay rises be withheld until we had reform. Thanks to the negligent manner in which Fianna Fáil governed the country, there was little or no reform, just pay rises. To those who lamely suggest there was reform, I have a question. If there was, why are we still talking about it?

The reform should be implemented now because we’ve already paid for it. Apart from obligation to fulfil this contract, there is a moral obligation too. We should get the reform because we’ve never needed it so much. Is it too much to hope that enough people still believe that doing the right thing is always worth it?

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