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FactCheck: Are Luas drivers really paid more than junior doctors?

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is back. And we’re stepping into the country’s biggest argument at the moment.

YOU HAVE PROBABLY seen this meme somewhere over the last few weeks.

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It’s one of the most forceful arguments made in the public debate surrounding the ongoing industrial dispute between Luas workers and their employer, Transdev, and has been doing the rounds on Twitter and Facebook.

But is any (or all) of it true?

In the first of a new series of Fact Checks, we’re examining the claims made in that meme, and outlining some basic, important information about the dispute.

Claim: New Luas drivers train less, work less, and are paid more than new junior doctors
Verdict: Mostly TRUE, but ignores how quickly junior doctors start to earn vastly more than tram drivers, over-simplifies Luas workers’ demands (which are evolving), and gets some smaller details wrong.

The facts

Pay

Here’s how Luas tram drivers’ salaries look, according to this document produced by their employer Transdev.

(SIPTU, the union representing Luas workers, agreed that the figures provided by Transdev were accurate, when asked by TheJournal.ie.)

luasdrivers2

The drivers’ starting salary is €32,311 pro rata for the first 26 weeks of induction.

However, the drivers are paid €34,106 pro rata for the second 26 weeks. We’ve simply averaged those rates to arrive at the Induction Year salary of €33,209.

So the claim made in the meme (€32,000 starting salary) actually slightly understates the beginning salary of a Luas tram driver, but if rounded to the nearest thousand, it is TRUE.

If “starting salary” is intended to mean “first year salary”, then the claim understates the reality by around €1,000.

When it comes to junior doctors, technically known as NCHDs (non-consultant hospital doctors), it’s a bit more complicated.

After doing a medical degree and qualifying as a doctor, NCHDs essentially enter a long period of post-graduate training.

In the first year, everyone does an internship. The current salary for that is €31,938, according to the most recent HSE figures available, meaning the specific claim made in the meme (€30,000 starting salary) is FALSE.

The intern salary had previously been €30,257 (probably the source of the claim), until it was increased to its current level in 2013.

And for the following nine years, junior doctors pursue specialist training in their chosen field – anaesthesia, ob-gyn, emergency medicine, radiology, and so on.

They progress through the positions of house officer, registrar, specialist registrar and senior registrar, earning progressively more – up to €75,097 basic salary for a senior registrar at the top end of the scale.

Trying to find exact salary levels for each position and each year is messy, though, as different HSE regions and hospitals pay at different rates, and NCHDs with certain qualifications are paid more than others.

Furthermore, there isn’t a clear-cut year-by-year progression through the positions of a junior doctor.

However, we can roughly map the five stages of an NCHD’s postgraduate training on to the 10-year payscale of Luas tram drivers, and see how the basic salaries compare.

For each junior doctor position, there is a “points”-based salary scale, similar to that found in the civil service.

Using the most up to date HSE payscales, we’ve taken the median salary (the average of the lowest and highest points), for each position, and mapped it on to the Luas driver salary scale.

drivervsdoctor

As you can see, while it is true that the starting salary is higher for a a tram driver than a junior doctor, this gap is more than reversed by Year 2, and widens progressively from there.

By the end of Year 10, a junior doctor earns a median basic salary of €70,049, as opposed to the €42,247 equivalent for Luas tram drivers.

You should get the picture by now, but for the sake of having all the facts, let’s consider two other pay-related issues – bonuses and overtime.

Luas drivers can earn an annual performance and attendance bonus of up to 6.5% of their salary.

In 2015, the average bonus paid to drivers was €2,493.78, according to Transdev.

We asked Transdev for exact figures on overtime pay for Luas drivers. They did not provide them, but overtime pay is not understood to be particularly significant for tram drivers.

Junior doctors, on the other hand, are known to work extremely long shifts and do a significant amount of overtime.

In fact, the HSE told us that the highest amount paid to an NCHD in overtime last year was €114,397.

The average amount earned from overtime last year was €12,359.

So let’s give tram drivers their average bonus, and junior doctors their average overtime, and see how they compare.

doctorsvdriversallpay

As you can see, when overtime and bonuses are added to the picture, the gap between junior doctors and Luas drivers widens even further, and significantly, NCHDs earn more (on average) than tram drivers in the first year.

Certain categories of junior doctor also get what’s known as a “living out” allowance, worth €3,182 per year.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), which represents junior doctors, is currently taking legal action against the HSE over non-payment of that allowance.

In theory, it applies to interns, senior house officers and registrars, but was halted for new entrants in 2012, so calculating who is currently getting it, and how that impacts overall remuneration, would be inordinately complicated, especially for the purposes of this fact check.

In conclusion, the claim that Luas drivers have a higher starting salary than junior doctors is TRUE, although the exact numbers in the meme are slightly off.

And it doesn’t take into account overtime for junior doctors, which adds significantly to their pay in the first year, and certainly doesn’t take into account how quickly NCHDs start to vastly out-earn tram drivers.

Hours

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As confirmed by Transdev, Luas drivers are contracted for 39 hours, and rostered for an average of 35.45 hours a week. So the claim in the meme (36.5 hours) is actually a bit of an overstatement, but is Mostly TRUE.

Junior doctors, as we have already noted, work significantly longer hours.

According to HSE statistics, 73% of NCHDs worked an average of 48 hours per week in 2015. Those who exceeded that worked an average of between 49 and 65 hours a week.

So the claim in the meme (72 hours) is FALSE. No doubt some junior doctors work that many hours, during some weeks.

But the weighted average is 50.4 hours a week – far less than 72, although still very high.

Training

Basically, whoever created the meme has this one right. Transdev confirmed to TheJournal.ie that Luas drivers undergo seven weeks of training before starting out.

The prerequisite for NCHDs, on the other hand, is essentially a medical degree.

The minimum duration for that in Ireland is five years, although depending on requirements, some universities (UCD, RCSI and others) conduct a six-year degree programme.

So this part of the claim is absolutely TRUE, although in some cases it may actually understate the training required by junior doctors.

What Luas drivers and junior doctors want

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The claim that tram drivers are “fighting for an additional 54%” (as contained in the meme) is an oversimplification of their demands, albeit an eye-catching one.

It is not without a factual basis, though.

In the first instance, Luas drivers proposed two new payscales, across an 11-year time period (as opposed to the present 10 years), with salary increases of between 8.5% and 53.8%.

At the highest end of the scale, after 11 years, under the second proposed payscale, tram drivers would have a salary of €64,993, where now they have €42,247 – a 53.8% rise.

This is the source of the much-publicised figure of 54%, but is only one point on one of the scales, and so, we rate this claim only Partly TRUE.

Here’s the full picture of Luas drivers’ salary proposals, as first presented in talks between SIPTU and Transdev.

luasproposals

A couple of points need to be made here.

Firstly, these were initial proposals. A SIPTU spokesperson this week told us they were “a reflection of the members’ opening position” and added “it was never expected that all [proposals] would be granted.”

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) agreement made on 16 March involved a cumulative pay increase of 18.7% for tram drivers, over the next 33 months.

However, with the rejection of that agreement by drivers on Thursday, it remains to be seen what specific demands will emerge from the ongoing dispute.

We don’t know whether the rejection of the WRC deal constitutes an absolute rejection of the proposed pay increases.

SIPTU’s statement following the ballot didn’t cite the proposed pay increase, but rather the proposal for new staff to be on a lower salary scale than existing staff, and concerns over what it called the “disproportionate” productivity required under the 16 March deal.

This could well suggest that drivers and other Luas staff have significantly climbed down from their initial salary demands.

Secondly, tram drivers are just one of four groups of Luas workers currently engaged in the dispute with their employer Transdev.

The others are traffic supervisors, revenue protection supervisors, and revenue protection officers.

Thirdly, Luas drivers are also in negotiations over conditions and other benefits, and not just pay.

They are demanding:

  • Improved annual leave (from 20-25 days and 24-27 days, depending on length of service)
  • Improved bereavement leave (from 3-5 days for a parent and 5-10 days for a spouse/partner or child
  • Improved paternity leave (from 3-10 days)
  • Improved maternity leave (from 14 weeks to 26 weeks)
  • Improvements to annual bonus, sick pay, shift durations, pension arrangements, and overtime rates
  • Access to free GP care

Junior doctors strike Junior doctors striking over working hours in 2013. Source: PA WIRE

Finally, let’s turn to the claim that junior doctors are “fighting for an end to 24-hour shifts.”

It’s a bit poorly phrased (what’s being opposed is shifts longer than 24 hours) but, making the fairly safe assumption that this is what the meme intends, the claim is TRUE.

However, the 24-hour shift is one of a number of concerns for NCHDs, and probably not the primary one at the moment.

Working hours in general are a major priority for NCHDs and the IMO, which represents them.

The primary concern is the European Working Time Directive (EWTD) requirement that junior doctors work an average of no more than 48 hours a week.

Some 73% of NCHDs attained this in 2015, according to an analysis of official data provided by the HSE.

The most recent compliance rate, in January 2016, was 80%, and junior doctors are pushing for the HSE and government to do what they can to get compliance to 100%.

The second major element of the EWTD is ensuring junior doctors do not work shifts longer than 24 hours, as mentioned in the meme.

Compliance with this was 95% in 2015, as it was in January. While the prevalence of shifts longer than 24 hours is significantly lower than that of work weeks above 48 hours, it is still one of the IMO’s primary concerns, as regards junior doctors.

The third component of the EWTD has to do with rest periods. Compliance with European rules was 98.3% for all rest requirements during 2015.

Some other issues of concern for junior doctors (according to the most recent IMO annual report) were:

  • Restoring the €3,182 “living out” allowance
  • Reversing 30% cuts to the starting salaries of hospital consultants
  • Slowing and reversing the emigration of NCHDs

Here’s what the meme looks like after our fact check:

FACTCHECKEDmeme

Read: All our GE16 Fact Checks>

Read: Luas strike to go ahead on Easter Sunday and Monday>

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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