Public-private pay discrepancy must be taken on
Three years ago, a sales assistant with 10 years' service earned €11.50 an hour.
She still earns €11.50 an hour, but her yearly earnings have fallen by 13pc.
The reason, of course, is that her working hours have been cut: one of various means used by private employers in order to stay in business -- and willingly accepted by workers.
Those of them who remain at work, struggling with rising prices and pay reductions of up to 30pc, can count themselves among the lucky ones.
Many employers have survived by imposing redundancies. Many others have been forced to close down. In the latter event, all the company's employees lose their jobs and join the 314,700 people on the dole.
That is the total number unemployed (14.4pc of the workforce) in the third quarter of this year.
Of these, 56.3pc count as long-term unemployed, out of work for more than a year. The greatest optimist could not but concede that the prospects for those who fail to hang on to their jobs are bleak indeed.
The effects do not apply solely to individuals and families whose living standards have fallen steeply.
The erosion of their spending power affects the whole economy and reminds us that, all said and done, there is only one way to return to prosperity -- through economic growth.
And growth will not return until we overcome the uncertainty that afflicts families in trouble, and will afflict society at large as long as the European banking crisis remains unresolved.
The Government's options are few and feeble. But if it cannot bring certainty, it can promote fairness.
The survey of incomes in this newspaper today shows that while private sector incomes fell by as much as 30pc, pay in the public sector typically fell by 6pc or less.
The Croke Park deal protects public sector pay and pensions, and any suggestion of change brings forth loud protests.
Mixed views -- to put it no more strongly -- have emerged within the Government.
The public sector unions seem to regard any proposal for reform as an attack on the underprivileged. The truth is that the same private sector workers whose living standards have fallen drastically are bearing, as taxpayers, the cost of unjustified pensions, perks and payoffs.
Which matters more here?
Are the politicians afraid of the trade unions or motivated, in part, by fondness for their own privileges?
They must tackle this issue to show that they have any belief in fair play.