When it comes to pixies, Michael McGrath is pretty up there with Old St Nicholas. The current finance minister left a welcome gift in the Christmas stockings of all public sector workers in his final act as Minister for Public Expenditure. His retrospective pay rise, which hit pay packages just before the bank holidays, netted a few hundred pounds more at a favorable time of year.
The bonus payment for 370,000 public sector workers came on the assumption of a 6.5 percent public sector pay rise over the next year. The first 3pc kicked in late in the year, but the benefit has been backdated to February. Then another 2 pieces come in March, followed by 1.5 pieces in October.
Year on year, public sector workers’ salaries will increase by 6.5 percent, on top of everything that’s happening on the tax side in two budgets.
With the staggering rise in inflation driving the cost of living and housing costs rising, the hikes will be eaten up pretty quickly. Members of the largest public sector unions, Fórsa and Siptu, snapped up the deal with support of over 90 percent. Apparently, the backdating wasn’t even a deal breaker in talks about the deal, but rather an additional sweetener from the government. Negotiations went through the traditional collapse when the offer was not big enough and had to be restarted.
The coalition had the added benefit of burgeoning coffers and calls for measures that could ease the cost-of-living crisis for cohorts in society. The backdating can be written off as a one-off hit at the end of a year when corporate tax revenues went through the roof. However, the wage increases go below the line forever.
McGrath takes a leaf out of his first leader’s book, Bertie Ahern, and sees credit in brokering a protracted deal with the unions. There’s a spring in the cap.
Certainly there will be criticism that it does not go far enough and that the coalition must specifically address underlying societal problems in the areas of housing, health and childcare. Public service providers are equally affected when these services do not meet the requirements of a well-functioning society.
The fabled “Coppers Couples” – the security guard and the nurse or the civil servant and the teacher whose romance began at Copper Face Jacks nightclub – can no longer afford to live in the capital because of the high rents. Trying to chase housing inflation with wage increases is not a sustainable solution.
The government also took a seismic leap in reforming the health sector, agreeing to an all-public consultant contract and paving the way for a wave of hospital doctor hiring. The base salary range of €210,000 to €252,000 for new hires and existing consultants is well above the salary of a typical government employee. The next year will say much about whether the Sláintecare proposals can actually represent an end point for the established two-tier health care system.
Beyond the private sector threshold, the old Celtic Tiger days of the agreed social partnership model are over, but individual agreements are still made. Unions are advised to aim for wage increases in the range of 4 to 7.5 percent over the next year if the company can afford them. For the most part, these numbers are only in touch with inflation.
Investing capital, time and money in achieving industrial peace is not just a political imperative to buy public sector votes. Look across the water to see what happens when a government is unable or uninterested in maintaining social solidarity and avoiding industrial chaos.
The tide of strikes sweeping the UK threatens to grind to a halt as workers in healthcare, transport, the postal service and public services take diverse ranks to take industrial action against wages and working conditions.
The winter of discontent will continue into 2023 with further widespread unrest. The results of strike votes for firefighters and teachers are due in January, with junior doctors also expected to vote. London Underground workers have agreed to another six-month industrial action.
Instead of getting involved, the Tory government is getting involved. Britain’s youngest prime minister, Rishi Sunak, has threatened to introduce tough new laws to limit strike action. The British electorate is divided on where the fault lies, pointing fingers at union leadership is not having the intended effect.
A poll last week says more people blame the UK government than the unions for the spate of winter strikes. The poll for think tank Compassion in Politics found that 41 percent believe the Tories are responsible, 35 percent say unions are to blame and 11 percent blame employers. The poll also revealed a split between Tory and Labor voters over who they thought was to blame. It goes along predictable capitalist and socialist lines.
The malaise in British politics since the Brexit vote has spread systemically, creating a country where dysfunction is becoming the norm.
There is little praise for grinding the hard yards of working with employee representatives to resolve, intercept and anticipate potential disputes. Industrial relations anarchy does not suddenly appear overnight. It takes years of neglect, lack of communication, and a singular failure to recognize a problem that is building.
The third Prime Minister of 2022 has brought some semblance of stability to British politics, but his lack of connection to ordinary people’s lives is glaring. Sunak’s awkward exchange with a homeless man last week as he volunteered at a soup kitchen in front of TV cameras was a case in point.
After a brief exchange of words, the prime minister asked the man if he worked in business. The man replied that he was homeless. Sunak then spoke about his background in the financial industry and asked if it was something the man “would like to get into”. The man replied, “I wouldn’t mind, but I don’t know, I want to get through Christmas first.”
It has gone down in history as one of the great political scares.
And to think that the British political system was once viewed with reverence around the world.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/coppers-couples-may-be-in-peril-but-public-sector-secret-santa-is-better-than-the-anarchy-in-the-uk-42243856.html Coppers couples may be in jeopardy, but the public sector’s Secret Santa is better than Britain’s anarchy