Clare spoke on the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill, making the point that what we should be discussing is the abolition of the FEMPI Acts entirely, fully restoring pay, especially for the lower paid. We should also not forget that this latest FEMPI Bill does nothing to address the fact that the number of hours public servants have to work are still longer and they have fewer holidays and worse conditions than they had before we bailed out the banks and brought in the FEMPI Acts to try and make up the shortfall. Watch below.
It obviously goes without saying that some restoration of public service pay is undoubtedly better than none. I would imagine that public sector workers have experienced a certain degree of relief that after five years of the Government being in office, during which time it has consistently pilfered large sums of money from their pockets, this year it has thrown a partial amount of that back. The reality is that what we should be discussing is the abolition of the FEMPI Acts. They should no longer be in place.
The Bill may partially restore some elements of pay in the public sector, but the number of hours public servants will have to work with still be longer and they will have fewer holidays and far fewer conditions than they had before we bailed out the banks. That is the reality of the Bill. In fact, the small pay increases in the Bill negotiated as part of the Lansdowne Road agreement are even smaller than the headline rates flagged by the Government.
The TUI – fair play to it – has been incredibly vocal about the Bill and the agreement. It has labelled them as unfair and heavy-handed, and I agree. They give the Government the power to withhold about €1,600 for supervision and substitution duties by teachers due to be paid in two tranches, starting in September next year, and the power to refuse to pay incremental pay rises for members of unions which are seen to have repudiated the Lansdowne Road agreement.
This gun to the head, mob movie-type union busting extremism gives the lie to the Government’s propaganda that it is confident that the people believe the lies it is peddling about a recovery and its brilliant economic stewardship. If it were so confident, why would it need to have such vicious tactics in the Bill? It is because it has lost the hearts and minds of public sector workers and knows the only way it can get an agreement is by viciously attempting to ram it through. The TUI correctly pointed out that the pay increases from 2016 will have little if any impact on part-time workers, the most vulnerable sector of in the public sector as it is. I am so annoyed about this Bill I am almost struck dumb.
We are talking about FEMPI remaining in place until 2016. In other words, the Government is retaining the right to cut public service pay unilaterally for at least another three years. That in effect is what it is saying. It makes a mockery of the recovery and the ending of the emergency. It exposes its propaganda. The real agenda is precisely as Deputy Boyd Barrett pointed out, namely, why waste a good crisis.
What this is about is a race the bottom dressed up as reform. For neoliberalism that means an all-out assault on the terms and conditions and pay of workers which were fought for by the trade union movement over decades. It has resulted in longer hours, shorter holidays and poorer working conditions, to name but a few. Precarious and casual labour is now part and parcel of the public service. There are now JobBridge jobs in the public service. It is a disgrace and stands on its head what was once something which was not an unreasonable expectation for citizens, namely, that we might aspire to the idea of a secure, permanent, pensionable job that would allow us to put a roof over our heads for our families, give us access to health care when we were sick, access to education for children to achieve their full potential and so on. All these things have been under attack.
I do not have time to discuss all the points, but the casualisation of labour, which once it sets its stall in the public sector is repeated in the private sector, is being further entrenched as part of this Bill. The TUI stated that one third of its members at second level and up to half of those aged under 35 years are in temporary or part-time employment. How in God’s name can they buy or rent a house in our economy given those conditions?
Many university lecturers, the people one might think are the elite of academia, are on hourly contracts with very limited hours. Some 66% of university staff are now casual workers. We know about the figures on the overall shrinking of the public sector and the massive reduction in numbers. The consequences of that can be seen in front-line services such as the closure of Garda stations, the people on hospital trolleys and the largest class sizes in the eurozone even after so-called reform in that area. Members of the Defence Forces are surviving on subsistence, supplementary payments from family income supplement and so on.
It should be pointed out that there are two categories of workers.
The first of these consists of women. The public sector was one area where women held their own, and there was more of a chance of getting equal pay in the public sector than in the private sector. Not only this, it was an environment which marketed itself on the idea of being family-friendly and encouraging women in this regard. Women in the public sector earned 5% more than their private-sector counterparts, and at the lower end of the scale, in the most vulnerable sectors, public sector wages for women were 15% higher. This is an attack because what happens in the public sector is followed by the private sector. We know many of the family-friendly working arrangements have been stood on their head in the name of austerity, and none of these things will be protected after the passage of the Bill. In this sense I see it as a specific attack on women workers because of their prevalence in the public sector.
The second group of workers being particularly targeted and not having their needs addressed is pensioners. It is great that there is some restoration of public sector State pensions. This is brilliant, given the butchery the Government carried out on the livelihoods of pensioners. However, it is doing nothing in the legislation to deal with occupational pension schemes such as the Irish airlines superannuation scheme, IASS. IASS pensioners will find themselves in exactly the same position after the Bill is passed as they did before, despite the fact that these workers spent most decades of their working lives building up pensionable service in a State-owned company. It is a pretty big kick in the teeth, to be honest.
By next week, when the cuts from their pockets are taken for October, €5 million will have been robbed from the people on a pension in this scheme, who are in their 70s, 80s and 90s, to pay off a section 50 debt they did not even know they had. This section 50 debt was unilaterally passed over to Aer Lingus and DAA pensioners, who had it deducted at source from their monthly income without their agreement, without consultation, without compensation and without being party to any debt resolution process. It is a debt they did not even know they had. Absolutely no compensation or relief has been provided to these workers, who worked in State employment all their lives. There has been no recognition either for deferred pensioners, whose long service leaves them less well off. A cut in retirement pension of up to 58% for long-service deferred pensioners with decades of work behind them, 42 years in one instance, is absolutely and utterly disgraceful. The Government had an opportunity to use some of the money from the sale of Aer Lingus to address the shortfall. It has another opportunity with this legislation. Given that the Bill allows for variation of the amount payable or rate of payment out of money provided by the Oireachtas, the Central Fund or the growing produce of that fund to certain persons for certain services to or on behalf of the State, and the Central Fund being one into which the IASS pensioners have paid €35 million to date via the stamp duty pension levy, could this not be diverted to restore some of the savage cutbacks in their living standards which were imposed on them in the same name of austerity? The Government has not done nearly enough for public sector workers, but it has absolutely ignored pensioners who gave their full working lives in this regard. The Government is due to face court cases which will ensure it will have to foot the bill by trampling on the rights of these people and taking their pensionable retirement from them. The Bill is not even too little, too late. We should be discussing the abolition of this repressive emergency legislation, and the Government should not be attempting to pat itself on the back because it has thrown back a few crumbs.