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Claire Byrne: Public service? Ha! Work to rule is just plain cowardly

If you are a public sector worker and your salary has been cut by more than 10pc, you have every right to feel aggrieved, especially if you were on a low wage to start with.

But behaving petulantly and providing a half-service by going on a go-slow or work-to-rule is petty and frustrating for the rest of us.

If the public sector really feel that strongly about the fairness and equity of the cut, they should go on an all-out strike. But they won't, because the unions don't have the guts or the resources to strike.

The rest of us in the private sector have had serious salary cuts too, if not total job losses to contend with. In many cases, we are working harder in the period post-cut, because of the business realities facing all of us in 2010. We don't have the luxury of opting not to use the phone or man the desk during lunchtime. If we did, there would be a very open door provided for us to walk through, without the opportunity to walk back in.

I sent a form to a public sector office last week. There was a space on the form for me to provide my mobile telephone number, which I duly did. This week, the form was returned to me in the post, with an unsigned note saying that there was a problem with it. I now have to start the entire process again with a new form, simply because the person who dealt with it wasn't allowed by their union to pick up the phone and call me to sort it out.

Today I heard about an elderly person who is in severe pain and is awaiting X-ray results. As we all know, an X-ray provides an instant picture and can be accessed almost immediately. It has been three weeks since the X-ray was done and still that person suffers in pain and the GP can't find out what the problem is or refer the patient on to a specialist.

The library staff in Lucan in Dublin have been instructed by their union not to provide children's story time on Wednesday afternoons. Does that union believe that this type of action is hitting the Government where it hurts?

Targeting primary school children and removing a service they enjoy is hardly going to keep Brian Cowen awake at night, but the education of the children in that area is deeply affected.

Thankfully, we live in a democracy where individuals are allowed to express their opinions and object to decisions that they feel are unfair.


There is a strong argument to be made that the salary cuts in the public sector were inequitable, particularly from the point of view of the lower paid, who see their seniors not taking the same level of cuts as they are.

However, the unions were the very ones who complained about the divisions created over the past two years between the public and the private sector and now they are the people who are fostering this divide and entrenching the war.

Answering the phones, covering lunch breaks and reading to children should all be seen as intrinsic parts of these workers' jobs. How can you work in a functioning environment without using a telephone? It is ridiculous.

The action the unions are taking is petty and facetious, it inconveniences us all and makes a mockery of the public service. If the unions want us to take them seriously then they should take to the streets and stage a proper protest. But they won't do that because deep down, the people they represent, like the rest of us, are just grateful they have a job at all.