Wednesday, December 30, 2009

on passing by- again

I am really beginning to think that certain Government workers, and the union leaders representing them, are living in some sort of parallel universe. In this other world the public finances are something that, although they give rise to some concern, are not things that need to be tackled with any sort of aggression. I am sick to the back teeth hearing the head of this or that union being interviewed and all they can say is that no matter what the solution it must not affect their members pay, conditions or terms of employment. Once this is understood then they are quite prepared to talk to the Government and to discuss the myriad options which they say are available to get us out of the current difficulties. They say that their members have already taken a seven per cent pay cut when in reality all the Government has done is to ensure that they are actually making some sort of contribution to the pension and lump sum which are so generously awarded to them. Workers in the private sector do not have the luxury of a guaranteed pension unless they contribute to it themselves so why should anyone else be featherbedded for their old age.
Another favourite solution is to keep borrowing to keep the country going. This would probably be a fairly safe bet if the sums needed were fairly small but we are currently borrowing in the order of 400 million euro a week. How long do they think we can keep this up because eventually the people lending the money are going to say enough is enough. If you cant, or wont, sort out your own financial affairs why should we risk our money by lending it to you.
When this home truth is pointed out they grudgingly accept that there may well be a bit of a small problem of that nature but that the option needs to be further explored before it is dismissed out of hand. Another option is to extend the period of time required to get our borrowing down to agreed EU limits. We have already saddled our children with a debt of massive proportions and the unions solution is to make sure that our grandchildren and their children suffer as well.
When all this stupidity is finally brushed away and they are asked how they would save the four billion euro needed to get us back to some semblance of normality you would think it was Hans Christian Anderson who had been asked the question. The usual first off is that they have already saved the country countless millions by agreeing to an embargo on staff recruitment but surely they can see that this is not a real saving but rather a cost that we will now not have to bear, which is a totally different thing. Next up we have the old chestnut, tax the rich. This coming from a union leader, some of whom earn up to one hundred and seventy thousand a year, is rich indeed. The leaders know full well that at the moment the top four per cent of workers pay forty five per cent of the tax. A large amount of the wealth that the four per cent have is extremely mobile and can be moved to another jurisdiction quite easily and quite rapidly. If this were to happen where would we make up the loss of tax revenue? How would we replace the thousands of jobs lost if these people decided to take their factories with them? In all the interviews I have heard with union leaders I have never heard a satisfactory answer to these simple questions. Is it because they haven’t worked out the answers or because to admit to the proper answers would undermine their argument?. Yes, exactly.
I am not advocating that the public or civil service should have to take all the pain but equally they cannot expect to be left untouched when every other section of society has been affected, or is to be affected. We cannot afford ever lengthening dole queues as this will drag us further into the mire. I accept that thousand of public servants are at or below the average industrial wage. It is also a fact that over nine thousand of them earn over one hundred and twenty thousand a year, which is almost an obscene amount in relation to that same industrial average. In effect we have nine thousand people costing over a billion euro a year. Surely a ten per cent cut on these people would not be too onerous considering their salary, job security and undoubtedly massive pensions.
I am sure there are other areas of the sector which could yield similar savings if the Government looked hard enough but they still seem to be in thrall to the unions.
A recent development underscores the “don’t hit me” attitude. Civil servants have said that substantial savings could be made if all the different types of allowance were examined and cut back. This would of course save money and the reason the civil service has brought it up is because most of them are in nine to five desk jobs and as such don’t qualify for allowances so its basically a case of I’m all right jack. So much for the vaunted solidarity between the brothers. The nurses, the guards and the fire services will lose money and the nine to fivers will escape unscathed. I am at a loss to understand how a Garda could be entitled to avail of up to fifty seven different allowances, especially the one to compensate for the loss of allowances while on holiday, but even I can see that implementing something like that would be totally unfair.
Unfortunately I cannot see a way out of the current situation until every one accepts that the economy is knackered, that we cannot afford a public service that costs over twenty three billion euro and that we have to do everything possible to keep people in work. The private sector has accepted this months ago, and private sector workers have made sacrifices to ensure the continuation where possible of their employment. Those that have been unfortunate are now trying to exist on benefits which could be only a third of their recent wage. In contrast the only people who have gone from the public sector have done so of their own accord to ensure that their pension entitlement will not be compromised by mooted measures in next months budget. Back to the I’m all right Jack.
Just before I go can I ask if anyone else is getting sick and tired of the way the Government Opposition is carrying on it business. In what all party leaders agree is the worst financial crisis in the history of the State we are constantly treated to opposition deputies automatically decrying anything the Government says. I am not a great supporter of the Government but I can see the need for action. Despite being constantly asked to forward suggestions to alleviate our position Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore seem more interested in scoring points and gaining headlines. Enough is enough lads.

All for now. Mike Edmonds Nov 09.

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