With the collapse of the pay talks aimed at trying to save that much-vaunted €2bn from the Irish public finances, it looks like there’s no option for the Government now but to enact what the talks were likely to conclude with in the first place: the topslicing of 10% from the wages of most public workers.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been a public servant for a few summers, and I’m completely au fait with the ridiculous waste that goes on in some departments, and how little work some obnoxiously highly-paid people manage to get away with every day.
But it is shortsighted and ignorant to tar everyone who works for the Government with the same brush. At the upper echelons of public service, there is serious competition for promotion – there’s a definite tangible barrier beyond which the earlier seniority is abandoned and the search for the next promotion, the next increment, the extra grade and the few thousand a year that goes with it, becomes all the more intense.
People close to home have fallen foul of nepotism in the past. They’ve changed workplace to get their heads up onto the next step of the promotion staircase. Now it’s looking like the whole benchmarking process was all for nothing, and the last few years of hard grit and late nights are wiped out by this immediate public pressure to chop the upper tenth off the wages.
This is short-sighted and silly. In the last week we’ve had Eamon Dunphy and Pat Kenny, perhaps two of the most overpaid public workers in the country, saying they’d accept 10% pay cuts at RTE. Why let them do that, though? Will RTE genuinely say “Oh, well, now that we have an extra €32k from Eamon we can afford another two underpaid researchers?” As if. They’ll say, “ooh, thank you kindly”, and help pad out the war chest for the coming times.
Why not, instead of lobbing 10% off everyone, instead introduce a secondary post-tax 10% levy for all public workers earning over a certain amount a year? That way they would still pay the upper tax on it – keeping the Government ticking over until we figure out a better solution, retain seniority bonuses that they’ve rightfully earned, and keep their pay grades untouched so that once the harder times are over, their wages can gradually roll back towards what they rightfully would have been.
It’s difficult enough to forge a worthwhile career for yourself without having the public demand that the gains of your last few years’ hard labour should be taken away without as much as an apology or a thin call to patriotic duty. I only hope that when the world gets back on its feet again, and Ireland has some spare cash, that we set the right spending priorities. It’s cheaper to spend money today than it is next year, regardless of today’s economic climate. The sooner Ireland might figure that out, the better it will be for all of us to come.