Social partnership only serves to protect top earners


I BUMPED into a millionaire friend last week. He was wearing a gorgeous coat. I couldn’t help myself and instinctively reached out to feel the fine wool. It was very soft and very expensive. I practically purred.

Every time I see David Begg going into Government Buildings, I can’t help but notice that his coat looks almost as nice as the millionaire’s. Would it pass the purr test? I might find out if I have a moment to pause when I’m in the angry mob tearing that coat from his back before he and his colleagues are perched on the spire with a Plough and the Stars sparing their blushes.

Begg says there’ll be a revolution if public servants have to pay for their own pensions. He still doesn’t get the fact that there’ll be a revolution if they don’t. The public sector demanded benchmarking to achieve parity with the private sector.

Try benchmarking a P45, statutory redundancy if you’re lucky and no pension because your defined contribution scheme went down the toilet with the Iseq.

So bring on the revolution: but before we do, let’s take a moment. Whom are we fighting and what are we fighting for?

When the Waterford workers raised The Plough and the Stars last week, it was upside down. That says everything you need to know about our so-called left wing which has everything back to front. Begg blames bankers, but he sits on the board of the Central Bank. We are in Animal Farm.

“But they had not gone 20 yards when they stopped short. An uproar of voices was coming from the farmhouse. They rushed back and looked through the window again. Yes, a violent quarrel was in progress. There were shoutings, bangings on the table, sharp suspicious glances, furious denials. The source of the trouble appeared to be that Napoleon and Mr Pilkington had each played an ace of spades simultaneously.

“Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

Begg’s ace is industrial unrest. Cowen’s is the authority to govern.

This is precisely the point where we need to take a breath and look closely at our fellow beasts of burden.

The pigs and humans inside Government Buildings have successfully pitted public sector worker against private sector worker. Comrades, this is the wrong war. The real battle should be between low-paid workers, whether privately or publicly employed, and the highly paid, whether they work for banks or government departments.

See how the unions frame the debate around the lowest paid, even as they fight to the death to protect the cushy numbers at the top. Yesterday on RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Pat Kenny show, they produced a humble hospital porter on a meagre pension of €91 per week to fight their corner.

The hospital porters, the street sweepers and the clerical staff on subsistence pensions are not the problem.

The problem is that social partnership has turned thousands of public servants into rich men and women in expensive coats while the porter rots on his €91.

David Begg does not represent the hospital porter. He perpetuates a system that keeps the porter in poverty while civil servants on €250,000 a year indulge us with a 5 per cent pay cut.

No, the problem is not the porter. The problem is the system that bars anyone from receiving more than one social welfare allowance, but lets serving politicians draw multiple pensions. The problem is that retired financial regulator Paddy Neary’s pension of €130,000 is not exceptional among his class, but quite the norm.

The problem is that Eamon Dunphy is praised for taking a 10 per cent cut off his €320,000 salary when we should be outraged that for one hour of radio per week and a bit of punditry he’s on that salary at all. Eamon has already worked for Today FM, Newstalk and TV3.

He has nowhere else to go and his wages are paid by a mandatory TV licence. So try a 50 per cent cut Eamon and we might be getting somewhere. The problem is that Begg and his cronies have framed the debate in terms of tax hikes and “sharing the pain” because that is a system that best protects the general secretaries and county managers on crazy salaries.

Hike income tax now and when it is reduced in five years’ time, or whenever we get out of this mess, the top civil servants will still have their big salaries and nothing will have changed.

So let’s have that revolution, but don’t fight the war on their terms. Social partnership used across the board percentage pay rises and benchmarking to enrich a whole class of people.

Let partnership fall and with it the rules by which pig and man divided the spoils of the farm.

If Begg cares about the hospital porter, then let’s save his tiny pension by capping all public service pay at €150,000 per year. That’s a fat enough salary for any of the fat cats.

I’d purr all day if I got that, but watch them scratch if you put that on the table.

Begg might talk revolution, but trust me, that’s the last thing he wants. Someone, quick, fetch me my knitting.