Thursday 23 January 2020

Gene Kerrigan: 'Stop guilt-tripping the hospital workers'

Hard-working people must fight for every cent they're due, while others are awash with easy money, writes Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Last week, it was like there are two versions of the human species on this island.

Each has its own rules and laws. What is true for one version of the human species is not true for the other version.

It's as though the law of gravity applies to some people, but not to others.

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One of the two species includes the 10,000 hospital workers who have been deprived of the pay increase they're rightfully due.

The other species - well, we'll come to them in a moment.

The hospital workers do essential work, socially invaluable.

Yet, of the two species they are regarded as the lesser - in status, in power, in pay.

They're paid as little as the State can get away with paying them. Only by joining a trade union have they been able to fight for a living wage. And when the economy crashed, they were bullied into accepting wage cuts.

They weren't the ones who benefited from the frenzy of greed that caused the crash. That was the other species, the one that borrowed billions to gamble in a game it didn't understand.

Slowly, after years of austerity, the slashed wages of the hospital workers are being restored, under trade union pressure. Meanwhile, their jobs have been professionally evaluated under an agreed process - which found they are thoroughly underpaid.

Since then, the State has played silly buggers, trying to slow down the payment due to the hospital workers.

The politicians used any excuse, no matter how threadbare; any obstruction, no matter how cynical; any injustice, no matter how flagrant.

Why? Because that's how you treat the lesser species.

You make them argue, until their argument can't be refuted; then you make them run through a maze, obeying rules that apply to no one else.

Finally, you agree they have to be paid.

But you have a schedule that will take some time to unfold.

Then you say there's no money.

Or the timing is wrong.

Or there's a last-minute hitch.

Ultimately, when they've been pushed to the edge, they do what they don't want to do - they issue strike notice.

At which point they're deluged with media stories about the pain their action will cause, with appointments cancelled, treatment postponed. Being socially useful people they feel terrible about that, but they've been driven to take strike action.

And the finger-waggers line up to tell them they're holding sick people to ransom.

The truth is, of course, that the State has used every possible trick to delay a rightful payment. Up to and including pushing the workers into giving strike notice.

The State, which tolerates the trolley culture year after year, which maintains absurdly long waiting lists, now frets about patient appointments being cancelled.

The State and its cheerleaders are using the patients as hostages to guilt-trip the workers, in a last cynical effort to avoid paying the money the workers are owed.

These are the tactics used against what are considered the lesser species. Last year it was the nurses who were guilt-tripped about "holding patients to ransom".

Every sector within that lower species must justify every cent it is paid - and must still then fight through its trade unions to get the actual money.

Now, let's have a look at that other species.

As the health workers pointed out, judges who are on around a quarter of a million a year simply got the increase they were promised. No fuss, no playing silly buggers - just, OK, you're due the money, there it is.

Quite right, too. The judges were as entitled to that payment as the health workers are to theirs. But there are different rules for different species.

One gets paid its huge raise immediately, the other has to fight for every cent, and must suffer being belittled and accused of abusing the sick.

Banking executives - who these days are glorified public servants - last week kicked up yet again about being limited to half a million a year. It's like half a million is an insult, such is the regard in which these people hold themselves.

One lad left for a job elsewhere, which provoked the rest to claim that if we don't pay them a million or more they'll all go walkies.

Ye know where the door is.

Some people say there's a housing crisis. And, for those at the sharp end, there is. For the dominant species, there's a money storm. They are wallowing in the stuff.

A while back, one of the foreign lads who came in to hoover up money, said: "We've never seen rental increases like this in any jurisdiction that we're aware of."

Recently, another vulture from abroad boasted that internally his executives refer to Ireland as "the gift that keeps giving".

Big profits, bugger all taxes.

In 2017, one Irish chief executive in the property business got a basic salary of €425,000, plus a bonus of almost €400,000, plus over €100,000 in "benefits".

Altogether, that was over €900,000, which was a €120,000 raise on the previous year.

Executives at another property outfit, just over a year in business, came out with rewards of around €10.5m.

Private sector, some insist, so it doesn't count.

But, the money flowing to these people comes from us - from every desperate punter looking for shelter for their family. Again, a thin layer of people are all but eating money, while others have to fight for every cent for which they've worked hard.

The reason the Children's Hospital started off costing millions and will now cost billions is not that the money is leaking through a hole in the floor. It's because tribes from the higher species in our society know how to charge vast sums of money for routine work.

The hospital hasn't been built. Not one nurse, doctor, porter or health assistant has received a cent - but the Irish professional classes are already filling their boots.

There are not, of course, different species on this island, but there are different classes.

They have their own schools, their own enclaves, their own sports and traditions.

The upper classes don't go to private schools for the education - they go for the networking opportunities, which will benefit them the rest of their lives.

These schools don't sell themselves on brainpower, they emphasise the "alumni", the network of old boys.

The schools teach each class what to expect from life. One will do the heavy lifting, the other will go to further education that will encourage them in what to demand, how to charge, how to network.

One class learns that if they borrow to buy a house they will be pursued for every cent, regardless of circumstances. The other learns the bankruptcy rules. If they've recklessly borrowed to buy 20 houses, to make a killing, the bankruptcy process will wash their debt clean, so they can start again.

The health workers are told money is tight, and the State must rigorously guard the taxpayers' money.

Unless the banks need €64bn.

One class values the notion of service to the community. Another class values grabbing all it can stuff down its throat.

One class has money unjustly withheld, even if this damages the sick. Another class is encouraged to get its snout into the trough, whatever the consequences.

Standing back and looking at it, you can see why it might appear that they come from two different species.

Sunday Independent

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