Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Boston, Berlin or Paris?

Is the Government sending a signal to the nursing organisations that, if they take their claim through bench-marking, a “nod & wink” way will be found to finesse it through the process? “You’ll get your money but we have to be seen to do it through agreed channels”.

This must not be allowed to happen. Bench-marking has already proved to be an expensive waste of public money, with large salary increases paid out for little, if any, reform of public services or added value for money delivered to the public. It is now widely accepted that the public service is overpaid, relative to those working in equivalent private employments. Those public service salary and pension commitments will be a severe financial burden on the state whenever the economy suffers a downturn.

Former PD leader Mary Harney suggested we should adopt the Boston rather than the Berlin economic model? Instead, on her coalition watch, we seem to have ended up with some of the most expensive parts of the Paris model. There the “fonctionnaires”, the public sector employees, really do rule the roost. Their large numbers, relatively high salaries, short working weeks, long holidays, early retirement options and generous pensions are bankrupting France. That country will also need to implement a bench-marking process, but this one will inevitably mean painful cutbacks in public sector conditions of employment.

We need to stop bench-marking being simply a gravy train before further damage is done here. Doubtless there are groups within the nursing population who merit salary increases or allowances above the norm, but there should be no blanket settlement simply to buy industrial peace, or allay the fears of nervous Government TDs in the run-up to the election.

Footnote: Aired on RTE's Today with Pat Kenny programme (minus the french paragraph). Published as a a letter by the Irish Examiner & the Irish Independent. A variant, which included politicians as recipients of bench-marking but left out specific reference to the nurses dispute, published by the Irish Times.

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