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Column We just can’t afford it any more – the case against Croke Park

Public sector workers have seen their average wages rise while others fall – and this can’t continue, writes Keith Redmond.

With debate continuing over the future of the Croke Park Agreement, presents the argument from both points of view. To read the other side, click here.

WHEN JIM LARKIN founded the Trade Union Movement in Ireland in 1909 the plight of workers was amongst the worst in the industrial world. There was no employment legislation, job or wage security or even the most basic of social welfare benefits. Their battle cry was equality, fairness and solidarity. It is to the great credit of the trade union movement that we are now, one hundred years later, a world away from those terrible times for workers. Well, for some workers.

When you imagine a trade union worker, are you visualising a poorly educated, low paid and vulnerable young strafe facing the might of a rich, cigar chomping, fat-cat boss? Well, you might be interested to know that the CSO says today’s trade union members are more likely to be over 45 with third-level qualifications, working in semi-professional occupations and earning an average of €900 per week. And their rich, cigar chomping, fat cat boss? Well, that’s you silly, the private sector taxpayer. By way of comparison, the private sector taxpayer earns an average of €600 per week. I think even Jim Larkin would be scratching his head at that turn of events.

The Croke Park Agreement (CPA) was established in 2010 to protect the pay of PS workers and forbid redundancies in the Public Sector. It followed a 7.5 per cent pay cut in the Budget of 2009. It was the first pay cut in the history of the State for PS workers. It’s interesting to note however, that the annual automatic payrises, or increments, that PS workers get has meant that from 2007-2011 their wage has actually gone up by one per cent while private sector workers have seen a drop of 19 per cent in the same period. And don’t get me started on the 800 allowances that you fat cats pay to PS workers. You’ll note that Minister Brendan Howlin has recently rolled back on his commitment to tackle those.

Workers on the dole

There have been no compulsory redundancies amongst permanent staff in the public sector although some short term contracted staff were not renewed. Meanwhile there are now 500,000 private sector workers on the dole.

The defenders of the CPA will say it has prevented strikes, produced co-operation and savings. I could deride and contest those arguments but that would be to miss the point. The point is, so what? The taxpayer still can’t afford the post-CPA cost of the public sector. All the fat has been trimmed from the non-wage budget. Next, we either have to close vital frontline services or trim our wage bill, it’s that simple.

The isn’t about ‘public sector bashing’, because they aren’t being bashed. The private sector worker alone is being bashed by the great recession, with wage cuts, job losses and diminishing benefits. The fact is that the CPA has disproportionately and unfairly protected a privileged class of worker at the expense of the vast majority of the others.

With this glaring inequality and unfairness, one has to ask where did the battle cry of the Trade Union movement to equality, fairness and solidarity go? If they continue to demand that the rest of us carry them through the recession, they run a dangerous course. As a great man once said:

You may succeed in your policy but ensure your own damnation by your victory.

- James Larkin

Keith Redmond is a Dentist in Sutton, Dublin, a small business owner and a presenter on NearFM. He can be found on Twitter @DrKeithRedmond

Column: Slashing wages will hurt everybody – the case for Croke Park>

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