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Big business lobby led to public sector pay cuts – Ferris

15 December, 2009 - by Martin Ferris TD


Speaking in the Dáil this evening Sinn Féin Workers Rights Spokesperson Martin Ferris TD said a well orchestrated campaign by business interests influenced the Government’s decision to cut public sector pay at the lower levels. Deputy Ferris said Fianna Fáil’s history with big business in this state means that the likes of IBEC and ISME have a huge advantage when it comes to influencing the decisions of the current Government.

Deputy Ferris said:

“The truth of this matter, as the Minister well knows, is that what we witnessed was not a popular uprising by old age pensioners and the unemployed and ordinary workers demanding that teachers and nurses and Guards and those who work in Government departments should have their wages cut again, but a well orchestrated campaign by business interests and right wing pundits in the media.

“The ink was not dry on the Budget before the same forces started to demand a reduction of the minimum wage. This proves the point that private sector workers are the next targets after the attack on low-paid and modest income earners in the public services.

“I received a number of emails for example claiming to be from small business people here which in fact were sent by the Irish subsidiary of a major overseas brokerage firm. IBEC and ISME organised their members in what was an effective lobby and fair play to them. That is the way that politics work.
However, as we know all too well from Fianna Fáil’s history with big business in this country; they have a huge advantage when it comes to influencing the action those in power take or don’t take.

“The old saying of ‘who pays the piper calls the tune’ springs to mind.

“Truly the days when a Fianna Fáil leader could claim to be the leader of a party that represented the people of no property are long gone.” ENDS


Full text of Deputy Ferris’ speech follows:

Like all of us in this House, I am certain that the Minister and each of his party colleagues and the Green Party TDs have received dozens of emails and phone calls from members of the public services who are the subject of the legislation we are debating which is required to facilitate the second pay cut inflicted on those workers this year.

That the proposed cuts would lead to so much anger and disappointment and indeed despair should surely have come as no surprise given the one day strike which took place a number of weeks ago and the ongoing representations made by public sector workers and their unions in the run up to the widely predicted cuts that were announced here by the Minister on Budget Day.

And yet the Minister chose to ignore all of this and we had the charade of an alleged Fianna Fáil backbench revolt over the proposals from the public sector trade unions which in themselves would have entailed another steep cut in the earnings of public sector employees.

The truth of the matter however, as the Minister well knows, is that what we witnessed was not a popular uprising by old age pensioners and the unemployed and ordinary workers demanding that teachers and nurses and Guards and those who work in Government departments should have their wages cut again, but a well orchestrated campaign by business interests and right wing pundits in the media.

The ink was not dry on the Budget before the same forces started to demand a reduction of the minimum wage. This proves the point that private sector workers are the next targets after the attack on low-paid and modest income earners in the public services.

I received a number of emails for example claiming to be from small business people here which in fact were sent by the Irish subsidiary of a major overseas brokerage firm. IBEC and ISME organised their members in what was an effective lobby and fair play to them. That is the way that politics work.
However, as we know all too well from Fianna Fáil’s history with big business in this country; they have a huge advantage when it comes to influencing the action those in power take or don’t take.

The old saying of “who pays the piper calls the tune” springs to mind.

One of the main themes in the emails which I have received from teachers and others in my own constituency and from every other county is the perception that those who are on low to medium wages are being saddled with the main blame and the main burden for the current financial crisis, and its solution.

There are people in this building for whom the cuts this year mean that they are little better off than if they were claiming social welfare. Indeed there are people working in this building and in other branches of the public service who are earning a weekly wage that entitles them to Family Income Supplement which makes a complete mockery of any pretence on the part of the Minister that he is taking on some protected well healed section of the community.

What a pleasure it must have been last week for them to see the hangers-on of the Minister’s party swanning around the Dáil Bar and Restaurant celebrating the fact that the people guiding them around, and serving them pints and food and working for their TDs were having their incomes slashed while some of those doing the swanning around are among those who have done very well indeed from the so-called Celtic Tiger and by all appearances are not suffering too greatly from its demise, brought about of course not by the staff in the Dáil Bar or the people working in the restaurants or the ushers or secretarial staff but by the friends of the Ministers own party who, through their greed and incompetence, have saddled this state with a massive debt that will be visited on the sons and daughters and maybe even the grandsons and grand daughters of those being presented with the bill for the end of the great party, to which incidentally none of them were ever invited.

It is sickening indeed to listen to some business spokespeople and right wing pundits who are seeking to give the impression that all of those public sector workers currently having their incomes slashed in an unprecedented way were living the high life over the past ten or so years, and indeed that in doing so they created the current mess that we are in.

Was it teachers or nurses or Dáil ushers or secretarial assistants who speculated in land banks and pushed up the prices of houses, was it council workers who created the mortgage inflation, was it the hospital cleaners who charged or rather demanded to be charged exorbitant rents for houses and apartments, was it firemen who increased the prices for hotels, and food and drink even while workers in those sectors were receiving only modest increases or no increases at all?

No it was not. The only share they had in all of that, in common with the vast majority of people in this state, was to have to pay a much bigger share of their income for housing and accommodation and just about everything else. It is ironic then to listen to spokespeople for those sectors claiming that the attacks on the public service will somehow lead to economic recovery. I wonder have they pondered that there will be less people to overcharge now?

But what was most telling was one business spokesperson last week who said that the Budget will lead to a revival in overseas investment and that this will allow Irish business to piggy back on all of that.

I use the word “telling” because it describes accurately enough a lot of what went on in the Celtic Tiger years. The real economy was to a huge extent dominated by multi nationals and this led to most of the real growth. Benefiting from that, and from the nominal increases in workers wages above all were the type of people I have referred to who saw it as an opportunity to dip their beaks and extract a disproportionate share of that in rents and mortgages by putting them up whenever they felt like it.

In saying that I am not criticising the many genuine domestic enterprises who have sought to contribute to employment creation and the economy and it is no accident that they have been treated extremely badly by the banks in comparison to the incompetent speculators who have gifted us NAMA, and a potentially worse disaster down the road.

Another aspect of the assault on ordinary public sector workers has been the apparent popularity of this strategy among other sections of workers although I suspect – if for no other reason than that many private sector workers are married or otherwise related to low and middle income public servants – that this does not reflect reality.

However, any private sector worker inclined to celebrate the attack on teachers and nurses and firemen and guards and people working in Government departments ought to beware because as sure as night follows day they will be next. The private sector has already seen cuts in wages and the undermining of jobs and conditions but the defeat, as it is regarded in business circles, of the unions on public sector pay, will be followed by further attacks on workers living standards.

Apart from the issues of fairness in all of this and the fact that many people’s lives will be made a lot worse, my colleague Arthur Morgan last week made other points regarding why these cuts are a bad move. They are not going to encourage economic growth as they will take a huge amount of money out of circulation. In saying that however, the Government is at least consistent as its entire strategy is negative and militates against any economic stimulus. Other countries have rejected their strategy and are showing signs of recovery. This Government however has chosen to attack those on low income and to further depress the economy while at the same time creating the monstrosity of NAMA to pay for the sins of their friends in finance and property.

Truly the days when a Fianna Fáil leader could claim to be the leader of a party that represented the people of no property are long gone.

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