Changing landscapes and familiar feuds

LandscapeBudget fever remains high, and a familiar narrative is beginning to emerge around the issues of public service pay and numbers.

Having complained for years about a ‘bloated’ public sector, many commentators have switched horses and are suddenly concerned about the reduction in public sector numbers and the possible effect on services.

Many are also criticising the unfairness of a ‘two tier’ public service in which new entrants are on lower pay scales. Make no mistake, unions are concerned about this too, and don’t consider the issue closed. But don’t be fooled by the commentariat. Nobody’s saying this out loud, but their way of making things fairer would be to cut pay for new entrants – and for everyone else too.

And this is not a public service phenomenon either. In a recent paper, Professor Bill Roche of the IR & HR School of Business in UCD pointed out that in 2010 about 23 per cent of firms in the commercial sector, employing about 17 per cent of the commercial workforce, also cut pay for new staff during the recession. And he suggested that those numbers are likely to be higher now*. In the same paper, Professor Roche criticised what he called the ‘hysterical tirade’ being waged against the Croke Park agreement by professional commentators.

A good measure of the tendency of some media outlets to indulge in that hysteria was revealed this week as the Government announced the introduction of a voluntary redundancy scheme in the public sector. While this scheme is expected to be very limited in scope, some media outlets were quick to speak of ‘golden payoffs’.

One national newspaper ran a front page headline with this phrase, adjacent to a much more sober reflection on the details of huge severance payment arrangements for the Quinn family which were revealed in court this week. It says much about how the respective issues are regarded in some editorial offices.

Changing staffing patterns in the public sector, caused by the reduction in the last 12 months, also belie the notion of a ‘bloated’ and overpaid workforce. A recent parliamentary question revealed that the greatest staff reductions have taken place among higher paid staff, and this has increased the proportion of those on low or middle incomes.

The public sector workforce now stands at 292,000 ‘whole-time equivalents’ with:

  • The percentage earning less than €60,000 up from 75% in December 2011 to 82% now
  • The percentage earning less than €50,000 up from 60% to 68%
  • The percentage earning less than €40,000 up from 38% to 45%.

The figures also reveal that the average public sector salary has reduced from approximately €60,000 a year in 2008 to €54,000 in 2012, inclusive of the impact of the pension levy.

Many critics of the public service will continue to ignore or dismiss these facts during the countdown to Budget 2013. Don’t let it get you down.

Niall Shanahan, Communications Officer, IMPACT.

*Source: Industrial Relations News