There was some “interesting” reaction to the report of the Public Service Pay Commission in our newspapers in the last week. Apparently, the fact that the commission recognised that there was no real gap in earnings between public and private sectors and that there was, therefore, a basis for public service pay negotiations, caused some discomfort in predictable quarters.
For some reason the Irish Examiner sought the views of one Eddie Hobbs, (seriously?) about which any comment is superfluous. Our good friends in the Sindo chose Colm McCarthy of An Bord Snip fame to offer his brand of well-articulated, anti Public Servant bashing. He chose to pour scorn on the fact that the commission did not ascribe a monetary value to job security. In addition, he had a go at the security offered by Public Service pensions, all with a view to illustrating his central argument that the State cannot afford to increase the salaries of its employees at this time, (one might be led to wonder if there is ever a time when Mr. McCarthy will feel that the State is in such a position? Only asking…)
The Irish Times chose Jim O’Leary, a man who resigned from the first Benchmarking Body as it was about to recommend increases in Public Servants pay, so you might observe that he has “form” in this game. Actually his piece meandered a little and could be described as negative but inconclusive. The same publication had a piece from Pat Leahy, whose normal haunt is the fetid atmosphere of Leinster House. He made some interesting observations, not least the point that if the Commission had recommended substantial pay increases, Government would not have opened the coffers and, likewise, had they made negative recommendations, that would not have stopped unions from seeking pay restoration.
The Sunday Business Post devoted two pages of analysis to the subject. The attention grabbing, and completely made up, heading, “Younger workers to be left behind” did an injustice to some quite sober reflections. One commentator concentrated on the limitations of the “fiscal space” available to Government while another noted that the “exasperation” whipped up against the public sector is often based on poor data.
Interestingly, all publications seemed to determine that “experts” were required to offer their opinions, rather than anybody who might actually be involved in pay talks. The only comments that I read over the weekend from direct participants were remarks by Jack O’Connor of SIPTU, and Minister Paschal Donohoe, the latter, unhelpfully, pouring cold water on the prospect of the additional unpaid working hours being abolished as part of any agreement.
All of this is interesting to me because it allows the possibility of stepping back and viewing commentary from the outside, usually by people who will be nowhere near the real action once it starts. Not for the first time also it is possible to observe the eagerness of media outlets to provide platforms for people whose agenda is hostile to Public Servants and, indeed, very often to the very concept of public service.