PUBLIC SERVICE workers will have been shaking in their shoe allowances last week what with Enda Kenny and Brendan Howlin talking tough about cutting a whole raft of the special payments they receive.
At least you'd think so, listening to the outraged responses of their union leaders. But, then again, maybe they were all just playing their part in a familiar old ritual dance that comes to nothing and will soon be forgotten.
We are told the Taoiseach didn't 'mince his words' at the meeting with the unions and the whole thing is really given to look like a stiffening of the Govt's resolve to squeeze some tangible value out of the Croke Park Agreement. This might be hard to believe but it certainly wouldn't be before time if this were to happen, especially when one considers the bizarre nature of some of the allowances that public service unions defend.
It is beyond the scope of human reason that a country drowning in debt pays female soldiers an underwear allowance, that there is a prison ' tuck shop' allowance and that Gardaí can get a bicycle allowance. The country is so impoverished that we cut precious minutes off the time home helps can spend tending to the elderly, yet meat factory inspectors are paid an allowance in compensation for having to put up with the smell of meat.
The unions are ready to do battle to defend these and many other allowances. Government efforts at seeking reform are regarded as an infringement of the sacrosanct Croke Park Agreement and are resisted accordingly. One threatened tactic is to appeal the removal of each of the allowances to the Labour Court in an effort to ensure the reform of allowances gets bogged down for years.
We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that it is entirely right and proper for unions to defend the rights of the workers they represent.
And, yes, public service workers have rights too. But it might be a good idea for the unions to bear in mind the precarious state of the nation just at the moment. They might also spare a thought for taxpayers in private industry who foot the bill.
Non-public service workers are paid less and work longer hours as industry struggles to survive in these economically straitened times. They are burdened with ever increasing taxes and they don't take it well when they see their money being wasted on frivolous perks paid out to public servants in secure jobs.
Despite the current tough talking, the Government's record on achieving reform is pathetic and even the savings that are claimed are highly questionable. We are now facing a budget that demands €2.25 billion in savings. If some of these savings come from removing public service perks, then less will be cut from essential services. It is to be hoped that the unions could cooperate here in the common interest. The problem is though, that the unions don't do co-operation and, on the evidence thus far, the Government doesn't fight.
Taxpayers, on the other hand - well they just keep paying their taxes.