Hospital consultants join clamour to end pay gaps from downturn era
Hospital consultants are the latest public servants to use the start of the union conference season to send out a signal to the Government that a turning point has been reached in resolving outstanding pay gaps.
Teaching unions earlier this week made it clear they want to enter the home straight in their fight to end the two-tier pay difference.
The Government sought to play down an earlier statement which seemed to hold out the prospect of a new initiative, but seasoned observers detect some signs of movement.
It remains unclear if the issue will be examined in a new pay review mechanism or whether it will be included in the next round of pay talks.
But as the imminent ballot result by members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation is expected to show a vote in favour of their €35m pay and allowances deal, following two days of strikes, public servants are getting increasingly impatient.
Either way, as the country enjoys economic recovery the momentum for an end to recession pay cuts is now unstoppable.
Hospital consultants will remind Health Minister Simon Harris at the annual meeting of the Irish Medical Organisation in Killarney today that the pay discrimination hangover, which sees new entrants paid 30pc less than longer-serving colleagues, is a major contributor to the hundreds of permanent jobs for specialists which cannot be filled in hospitals.
Of course, the failure to recruit specialists to hospital jobs - which were once highly sought after - is more complex than that and it has its roots in a lot of areas, including overcrowding and global training opportunities.
The 30pc pay gap has opened even wider with the resolution of the separate dispute which was settled with consultants who signed a new contract in 2008 and were not given the pay increases promised.
It means the difference in pay between some consultants recruited before and after 2012 is now around €90,000 at its most extreme.
This would apply to consultants who only work with public patients and have no private practice and these have become fewer in recent years.
A new entrant would be paid €160,000 to €200,000 while a colleague at the top of their scale is earning €250,000.
Many consultants would be on a contract allowing them to treat public and private patients in a public hospital.
A new entrant would earn between €146,000 to €150,000 while a more long-serving specialist with an academic post as well could be on €196,000.
Outgoing president of the Irish Medical Organisation Dr Peadar Gilligan told the conference that "the invoking of pay cuts to new entrants into professions and careers during the economic downturn has been depicted by some as a necessary evil.
"I would say the time for this evil has since passed.
"New entrants should not be treated unfairly for the fall-out from a problem in which they had no hand, act or part."
The doctors can point to massive waiting lists, with more than 514,000 waiting for a specialist appointment.
With a well-heeled image, the consultants will not generate the same level of public support as nurses, but they can make the argument that their financial pain has a direct impact on patient suffering as people face increasing delays for a specialist appointment. They want separate talks on lifting the 30pc pay cut which was over and above that imposed on other public servants.
The dilemma for all unions however is how far will they willing to go in terms of industrial action if there is no movement on the two-tier pay in the coming months.
The consultants can warn of industrial action but the risks to patient care mean any measure will have to be targeted at making life difficult for administrators.
There is room for manoeuvre in protest action such as refusing to sign forms to secure a hospital's payment from private health insurance companies.
They have the power to make life very uncomfortable for Mr Harris and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe.
Meanwhile, many long-suffering private sector workers for whom pay restoration is a mirage can only watch the unfolding drama from the sidelines with envy.