PAUL MILLS: Paul Mills: Time for Government to take on the public unions

Rolling over for the public sector unions will do nothing for the economy, except hurt it. As part of the agreement reached at the peak of the economic downturn, the Government is now restoring pay that was cut from the wage packets of public sector employees.

Sure, an agreement was made and should, under normal circumstances, be honoured, but we are still not out of the woods. We continue to borrow just to stand still.

A hard Brexit is looming and we are already feeling the implications of the plunge in the value of the sterling.

The UK remains our single biggest trading partner, in most areas, and the increasing value of the euro, against the sterling, is already leading to the loss of sales to the UK.

How deep it will go, or how long it will last, is anybody’s guess.

In those circumstances, one would think that the Government would have been prudent, not only in this recent ‘something for everyone budget’, but in casting a jaundiced eye over local, international, and world events to ensure the time is right, before general largesse in its dealings with public sector employees resumes.

We should not forget that, in the coming year, this Government will, if it lasts that long, spend €500 more for every single person in Ireland than the country takes in tax.

At the end of last week, economist, Dan O’Brien, wrote that the base for tax revenue had been reduced. There are 150,000 fewer people working compared with the height of the boom, and the population has increased. In effect, fewer people are paying more tax.

A sustainable economy relies on a wide tax base.

The public pay bill will increase by €850m this year, too, and bring the total public sector pay bill to €20.5bn, which is still lower, however, than the 2008 peak.

On the surface, that would suggest the public sector is not doing too badly at all, thank you very much, particularly with 30,000 fewer employees.

Trade union chief, Patricia King, took considerable exception to these figures, when they were tabled on a radio discussion over the weekend. Her view was that they are not representative, but, then again, she would be expected to say that.

Comparing apples with apples is usually fair.

Currently, the gardaí rank-and-file, together with their supervisory sergeants and inspectors, are set to work-to-rule.

The secondary school teachers are set to strike over several days in the next couple of months. The bus workers are up in arms, because the Luas employers increased the pay offer for the tram drivers. Students are demanding cuts to registration fees for third-level education. There are many more groups waiting in the wings.

It looks like the Government will talk big, but back down at the first sign of a reduced popularity poll.

To be fair to the Government, the private sector employees amongst us will be seriously unhappy when we are required to pay additional charges or taxes to pay for government employees, when we can never aspire to the benefits, conditions, working hours, and pensions that they enjoy.

It’s time to take on the public sector unions, who seem to operate on a different planet.

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