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Another slap in the face

THE decision to apply a lower salary cut to grades at the very top of the public service smacks of the sort of back-scratching cronyism that infuriates 'ordinary people' and undermines confidence in the Government to implement essential budgetary provisions.

Put simply, the basic salaries of some of the country's most senior public servants, including senior gardai, HSE officials and local authority managers, have been only slightly reduced because the calculations included a bonus scheme that ended last year, rather than being simply based on salary.

This means that privileged individuals, earning as much as €168,000 and more, will take a smaller cash cut than lower-ranking colleagues.

Now the Department of Finance has confirmed that the number of public servants whose pay cuts will be lessened by this "exceptional arrangement" will be closer to 600 rather than the 152 assistant secretaries and deputy secretaries originally mooted.

For those unfamiliar with the 'exceptional' goings-on in the upper reaches of the public service, the whole concept of a near automatic bonus is weird and wonderful.

These days, to most of us, an end-of-year bonus means still having a job.

Yet the performance-related bonus was an intrinsic element of a complex pay system created during the years in which the public sector pay bill ballooned by almost 90pc.

A proliferation of benchmarking pay increases, national awards, annual increments, special rises and those 'exceptional' bonuses were all part of a system which created today's €2.1bn a month borrowings, as confirmed in yesterday's exchequer figures, and the need for massive corrections.

The bonuses were largely based on civil servants' own assessment of their work and were supposed to be based on accountability and on performance related to "demanding targets". Yet there always appeared to be one for just about everyone in the audience.

How then could bonuses be regarded as part of salary, thus effectively turning on its head the key Budget requirement for "pay cuts graded according to ability to pay"?

Lower-paid public servants, particularly those who deliver essential frontline services and who already feel they are unfairly bearing the brunt of the pain of recovery, have another grievance to add to the list. And, this time, they have every right to be annoyed.

Irish Independent