Monday 23 April 2018

Councillors, nurses and just wages


'THE LABOURER deserves his wages' is a familiar phrase from the Gospels that was uttered by Christ and repeated by St Paul in his letters. Those five words stand as the foundation of Catholic Social Teaching, and I remember well being lectured about it in college, and hearing about Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum, and Pope John Paul II's 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus.

I often thought that there was nothing more painful than having to sit through lectures on such a banal topic! But they say that everything you learn stands to you, and you never know when it might make sense in the future. I think that moment has finally arrived for me, and at last I can relate to what those two old popes, among others, were saying, and I can understand why they were speaking about it.

The basic tenets of Catholic Social Teaching say that a worker has a right to decent work, to just wages, to security of employment, to adequate rest and holidays, to limitation of hours of work, to health and safety protection, to non-discrimination, to form and join trade unions, and, as a last resort, to go on strike.

Over the past while we've been hearing about the new scheme being run by the HSE to recruit 'graduate nurses' on a reduced salary of only €22,000 and offer them two-year contracts instead of regular contracts. There's been a pretty big backlash to this brave move by the Government, with the nursing unions urging people to boycott the scheme.

One spokesman for the Psychiatric Nurses Association said that after studying four years for a nursing degree, these nurses would be paid a salary which works out at about €10.50 per hour. He said that they'd earn more working in Aldi!

The whole idea of there being such a thing as a 'graduate nurse' is ridiculous in the first place. You're either a nurse or you're not, you have the same qualifications, you do the same work, you endure the same chronic conditions in our hospitals, and you do it all so that you can get an honest day's pay for an honest day's work. Surely this labourer deserves his or her wages?

The Government has the unenviable job of trying to reduce the public sector wage bill by €1bn, and fair enough, it has to try to find ways to achieve that. But the wages that are creating such a massive drain on the public purse aren't the wages of public sector workers on €20,000 or €30,000. No, those who are receiving €70,000 or €80,000 or €100,000 – those are the wage packets that are causing the problem, not those who are lowest paid and hardest working, like the nurses!

Meanwhile, back on ' planet madness', we read about another group of people whose yearly salary is a little bit more than the €22,000 we're offering our nurses, and all they really have to do is attend a monthly meeting and a few other social gatherings to come up with ways of justifying their existence. All county councillors receive a yearly salary of €16,724, plus a €2,300 basic travel allowance and €440 a month for out-of-pocket expenses (whatever they are).

The basic amount which a councillor is entitled to claim annually is €24,304. Maybe they're worth it, I don't know. I've no real difficulty with them being paid reasonable costs for representing their constituents and working on our behalf, I don't really mind. They stood for election and were duly elected and the best of luck to them.

But in the name of all that's any way remotely sensible, how can we possibly justify paying them €2,304 more than someone who studies for four years for a degree and works long hard hours week-in and weekout, caring for our sick and dying relatives?

' The labourer deserves his wages.' I wonder which labourer that is?