THE pay gap between private and public sector workers increased to almost €300 a week, and at a faster rate than previously this year as private sector employees in small companies endured tough pay cuts and reductions in working hours, according to new figures.
Private sector employees now pull in 47pc less than government workers, earning €611.88 compared to the €901.07 in the public sector. Weekly earnings in the private sector have fallen by 1.2pc from the second quarter of 2011 compared to the same period a year earlier while public sector wages fell 0.8pc as the number of hours worked declined.
This means the gap between the two sectors has jumped to €289.19. In June, when the Central Statistics Office last released data, the gap was €21 smaller.
The figures, which are compiled by the CSO every three months, ask thousands of employers in both sectors for information about salaries. Private sector pay includes everybody from highly paid chief executives to construction workers and factory hands.
The public sector includes everybody from government ministers to teachers and rubbish collectors. Public sector unions often try to explain the long-standing pay differential by noting that a larger percentage of public sector workers have college degrees than their private sector counterparts.
The pay differential began to emerge during the social partnership era and the introduction of benchmarking.
The methodology used was never explained and the recommendations took no account of pensions and other perks.
The contrasting fortunes of the two sectors, which take no account of the generous pensions paid to many public sector workers, are even more stark when pay is measured by the hour.
Average salaries in the private sector fell 0.5pc to €19.33 an hour between April and June this year from the same period last year. Public sector salaries rose 0.6pc to €28.90 an hour which means that government workers now earn €9.57 more an hour than their private sector counterparts.
Over a two-year period, average hourly earnings in the public sector have fallen by 3.9pc compared with a marginal increase of 0.1pc in the private sector. Worst off were private sector workers in companies with fewer than 50 workers. Their salaries tumbled 2.1pc in the past year.
Other sectors where employees suffered large salary falls were the professional, scientific and technical sector where wages fell 6.6pc and construction where wages are down 6.3pc.
A breakdown of the figures show educators are earning more than ever while those working in arts and entertainment have seen their average hourly earnings tumble. Those working in education saw hourly wages rise 4.9pc between March and June this year when compared to the same period last year.
The figures may reflect salary hikes in the large private education sector as well as third-level salaries; colleges tend to pay many staff their salaries towards the end of the academic year. Those working in arts, entertainment and recreation saw salaries tumble 7.4pc over the same period.