Public servants ‘should not have to apologise for earning their pay’

THE portrayal of public servants as overpaid, lazy, and backward-looking bureaucrats was last night rejected by the leader of the country’s biggest public sector union.

IMPACT president Nicholas Keogh also defended the benchmarking awards and told public servants not to apologise for drawing their pay, to which they were fully entitled. He also accused some of the union's critics of wanting public services to fail.

"Public servants should get off the defensive and be proud of the services they deliver," he told the opening of the 52,000-member union's biennial conference, in Tralee, Co Kerry.

Mr Keogh said public service benchmarking awards were deserved, but the Government's decision to pay them had unleashed an unprecedented attack on public services and those who delivered them.

"Many of our critics would be happier if public services didn't exist at all,' he said.

"The people behind much of the criticism of public sector pay support an economic system where those who can afford health, education and housing must pay, and those who can't must go without. Make no mistake, these people want public services to fail."

Benchmarking increases, he argued, were justified by the biggest ever independent comparison of public and private sector pay.

"But nothing prepared us for the vicious and relentless attacks that followed the Government's decision to pay the benchmarking increases.

"Economists, commentators, journalists and politicians many of whom appeared not to have read the report blamed all the ills of society on benchmarking," he said.

Mr Keogh said there was strong public support for public services.

"But without public servants there would be no services. The public service pay bill is not a drain on services. It is not a burden on taxpayers. It is society's investment in public provision," he told the 600 delegates.

"When I think about public servants I think of the men and women who deliver safe water to our kitchen taps and safe food to our tables; the people who struggle to provide decent housing for the growing numbers who can't afford to buy; the managers, administrators and health professionals who keep our hospitals functioning 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And the dedicated young people who work with disturbed often violent kids, homeless people, alcoholics and drug users. The vulnerable, difficult people that most of our critics would cross the road to avoid," he said.

Decentralisation of government departments, pay, housing, union mergers, rights of migrant works and equality of opportunity will be among the issues debated at the three-day conference.

President of the European Parliament Pat Cox is due to address delegates tomorrow.

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