Thursday 14 December 2017

Let's have real public sector pay debate

But at a time when we need solidarity instead we will get prejudice and spin from both sides, writes Stephen Donnelly

And so it begins -- the divisive, spin-sodden path to reducing the public sector wage bill. This week saw Pat Rabbitte and Brendan Howlin slide the Croke Park agreement on to the negotiating table and Eamon Gilmore whisk it off again. Fine Gael was noticeably quieter, but it knows where the conversation is going and, as our American cousins say, it has done the math.

To spice things up, the ECB has just released a report concluding that Ireland's public sector pay premium (the wage paid in the public sector relative to comparable private sector jobs) is conspicuously high.

There is a renewed focus on the €250m of public sector 'increments' (wage increases) to be paid in 2012. If the deficit target is missed (which is quite likely), the troika will be back, insisting on more cuts and taxes. This will lead to the wearingly familiar, polarising debate on public sector pay. Private sector and public sector union bosses will trade statistics and insults. Public sector workers will once again feel under siege. At a time when we need solidarity, we will get prejudice and spin from both sides. The debate will become poisonous.

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