Monday 23 October 2017

Putting profit before people in public and private sectors

WHEN did it become OK in this country to aim for the bottom of the barrel? That was the question I found myself asking at the weekend after I spoke to workers at the two seemingly opposite ends of the economic spectrum - those affected by the proposals for Croke Park II and those who are working in Harp Lager.

To Harp Lager first where, after 50 years of innovation and dedication, hard work and, as they say themselves, 'heart and soul', the workers there are facing a bleak future after the drinks giant Diageo announced the September closure of the Dundalk brewery would go ahead.

It is interesting to note how the families of these workers, some of whom have over 30 years service, decided that the only way they could get a message to the firm - which posted profits in excess of €3 billion last year, by the way - was to stage a poignant but powerful protest outside the gates of the Dundalk site on Saturday afternoon.

More than 40 turned up, children young and grown up, to support their dads in their claims for natural justice. Harp Lager was always a place that was the envy of other workers in Dundalk.

In the days when Guinness was the corporation in charge, the workers were looked after, with decent wages, decent pensions and decent healthcare.

Profit was at the heart of Guinness, like all businesses, but so too was the philosophy that if you looked after the workers, the workers would look after you. And Guinness ensured that those who gave their lives to the company were properly rewarded in their retirement.

But, my, how things have changed, and not just in Diageo. Workers all over Ireland in the private sector have seen their wages fall, their conditions worsen, their stress levels rise in the past five years while their bosses, running after profit and concentrating on the bottom line, tell them every week they're lucky to have a job.

All the while, the philosophy of looking after workers - securing their futures while companies get the most of the best days of their lives- has been eroded, to the point that the government - the State's biggest employer and one that previously set a high standard for how workers should be treated - has jumped on the barrel-scrapping bandwagon.

A woman who works as a lecturer in the public sector I spoke to at the weekend bluntly told me that the proposals, revealed last week by the government, mean she will lose over €4,000 a year. She doesn't own the house she's renting, doesn't drive a car, doesn't have private medical insurance.

Every one of us relies on some aspect of the public sector every day. You send your kids to school to be taught by civil servants, walk the streets of this town cleaned by public servants and if you or a family member is in trouble or sick, your first port of call is the Gardai or a nurse - public servants.

And yet, for some reason, a large portion of Irish society feels that these frontline workers, and others in the public sector, can afford to take pay cuts, don't deserve the wages they're getting for the mostly amazing job they do every day. Would you be a nurse for €300 a week? No, neither would I.

So the government, in our name, seeks to scrape the bottom of the barrel to wring the last few quid from the public sector, as they copy their pals in the private sector who continue to put profit before people. It is worth remembering there are more Gardai and nurses than there are politicians and more Harp workers than there are bosses in Diageo. In that sort of a numbers game, the workers will always win.

The Argus