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Public Sector Pay and Conditions: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 800 No. 4

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  8 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Eamonn Maloney: Information on Eamonn Maloney Zoom on Eamonn Maloney] Given the subject matter of this motion, I have to declare an interest. I joined a trade union when I was a teenager and was a member of Jim Larkin's Workers Union of Ireland and, subsequently, with the merger, a member of SIPTU. I am very proud to be able to say that. Obviously, I was not a member of a public service union, rather a member of a general workers union but I still retain my solidarity for all trade unions.

I say this because, for a newcomer, I find the debates here often take strange directions. In the debate before the ballot on Croke Park II, as a union man I thought we had some strange contributions from the Opposition side of the House and we have had some strange comments in the days since the ballot was announced. It galls me to an extent that I have listened to people here who I know were never in a trade union in their life, never stood on a picket line, never attended a union meeting and perhaps may never have worked for a day in their life - I am sure I will be corrected. It galls some of us that some of these people came in here prior to and following the vote, giving lectures to the Labour Party and, in some instances, lecturing trade union leaders who did the best they possibly could for the people they represent in a very difficult situation, given the country is bankrupt.

No negotiations ever end up in a win-win situation. As somebody who has been around unions for a sizeable part of my life, I know it is in the nature of things that people do not get everything they want. However, whatever about the merits of this agreement that has been rejected, I want to compliment people like Jack O'Connor who, in the first place, protected the people who are on the lowest wages. Whether one is a trade unionist, a Labour Party person, a believer in socialism or whatever the case might be, it is fundamental to look after those who are the weakest. People like Jack O'Connor should be complimented for this, although I will argue the other part of it with them. However, to take stick from people who, as I said, never stood on a picket line in their life, is a bit much.

Of course, I do not mean all of those in the House as I know there are those here who are staunch union people, and I respect them. However, why is this done? The previous speaker, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, alluded to it. On the part of some, it is not done because of solidarity with the trade union movement. It is done for naked political opportunism, that is all, so that this deal with not take place, things will get worse for the Government, perhaps we will have more evictions and perhaps we will have higher unemployment. It is naked political opportunism, not solidarity with public service workers.

In conclusion, I notice some of those who have been lecturing us and lecturing those in the trade union movement are very selective in terms of public service issues. One would expect people who purport to be so radical, when they are criticising the cuts in the public service, would include those at the very top of the public service - those like judges and retired judges, retired Ministers and other politicians who are on very lucrative pensions. However, I notice some of these people did not allude to that, and I know why. It is because, despite the fact that, when it suits them and depending on the speech, they refer to themselves as public servants, some of them are on a salary and allowances here. What they have not told the public service is that a handful of them are getting €40,000 tax free. That is why they do not allude to it. It is naked hypocrisy to lecture the Labour Party or trade union leaders when they themselves will not tell the full story.

Deputy Noel Harrington: Information on Noel Harrington Zoom on Noel Harrington I have to wonder what is the purpose of this motion given it is proposed by the last people in this House qualified to say anything credible about public servants and sustainable pay, conditions and work practices - those in Fianna Fáil. The hypocrisy, as I see it, is that the previous Government in dealing with any proposal surrounding public service pay and conditions simply capitulated and threw taxpayers' money at whatever the issue of the day presented. The complex nature of delivering public service reform while at the same time negotiating fair pay rates for all scales and sectors of the public sector was a bridge too far and too challenging for a Government led by the only self-proclaimed real socialist in town, for too long ably assisted by some of his back-slapping yes-men, some of whom had the temerity to put their names to this motion.

The measures that his Government put forward could only be described as short-sighted, basic and, ultimately, far too expensive for a country whose economy would shortly run aground. The benchmarking process and ultimate agreement is a classic example of the absentee leadership that typified Government policy from 1997 until 2011. This, and the introduction of a myriad of different allowances and payments for different posts and sectors, left the public pay regime unintelligible to the most forensic examination to a point where even the workers cannot tell what is core pay and what is an allowance. Schemes like Better Local Government, the arrival of the HSE and the debacle that became the decentralisation ego trip have all contributed to a more expensive, top heavy and less efficient public service that had to be addressed. I should add that flat percentage payment increases during this free-for-all created greater inequality among our public servants and left a much greater gap between those at the top and those at the bottom of the scale of public service workers. Of course, one would have needed vision, understanding and courage to have done it differently.

The sacrifices the men and women of the public service have made in recent years have been particularly difficult but this has led to a more efficient public service which is becoming fit for purpose. I also note that much of this pain was taken on without any industrial action whatsoever. This is commendable, unlike the motive behind this motion. The Government recognised this in adopting the Labour Relations Commission's recommendations that the highest paid public servants, those earning more than €65,000, would be hit first and hardest. Little wonder their union came out as strongly against as it did.

One of the main issues that surfaced during the negotiations directly affected those earning more than €35,000 but less than €65,000. The basic pay was to remain untouched but some allowances would have been affected. I previously mentioned the monkey's fist of the remuneration regime agreed by the previous Administration, and unravelling this is naturally complex and confusing. Those earning less than €35,000 would not have their pay affected high up or low down. I believe it is fair that they would be asked to participate in reforming the services where modest changes to work practices would be on the table.

I should state the cost of public sector salaries is now nearly €19 billion of Government expenditure. I would combine this with the cost of the total expenditure on social welfare at nearly €20 billion of gross Government expenditure. Some 90% of private sector workers in this country are looking at these figures with concern. They are struggling from day to day just to retain their jobs in challenging sectors such as, for example, retail and construction. In quoting this, we must also remember the 250,000 people who lost their jobs as a result of Fianna Fáil's direct and disastrous Government policies. It is difficult not to reflect that all of our collective focus should be on getting these people back to work.

I have spoken to people who voted against the agreement. They accept that cuts were necessary and they even accept that they themselves would have to contribute again. However, one person pointed out to me that, like turkeys that know Christmas is coming, why would they vote for it?

I note the motion specifically calls for engagement, no legislation and full disclosure. Talk about a conversion from a party that previously acted unilaterally to cut pay levels. It is a pity when the economy was roaring that some of the same signatories did not recognise that modest reform and more nuanced corrections could have achieved so much. The inevitable departure of the Celtic tiger left them completely baffled and totally at a loss as it arrived despite their policies and they did not have a clue where it came from in the first place.

All the evidence leads to one conclusion, namely, that Fianna Fáil ran this country with only one objective in mind - that of buying elections with taxpayers' money. Its former leader even claimed so in the Dáil. No one on this or any side of the House who was elected in the last election wants to impose pay cuts on anyone, whether in the public or private sector, but the precipice the taxpayers were facing when Fianna Fáil left office left us with no choice when the troika came in to explain and tell us how a country should be governed.

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