I was unsurprised by the wide-ranging response to my blog post two weeks ago entitled “Defending the Public Sector isn’t Defending the Poor“. What was interesting was that not a single negative response provided any evidence whatsoever to challenge the point of the piece – inherent within the title!
There is of course a case for defending the Public Sector per se – and indeed the Public Sector Unions should do it. This very blog has argued that too much administration is being foisted on to teachers; the treatment hospital nurses are expected to put up with is outrageous; and most notably of all all workers should have a reasonable expectation not to be injured at work, and that very much includes police officers. Contrary to some of the nonsensical abuse which followed the piece, I have in fact argued consistently for removing administrative burden from teachers and increasing their pay (relative to other workers); for fundamentally re-assessing the requirements placed upon nurses particularly with reference to the burden of proof during complaints; and for politicians to stand up for the basic right of all public sector workers to be safe in the line of duty.
However, the fact is (and Public Sector Unions don’t seem too keen on facts) that Northern Ireland suffered a 10% real-terms decline in living standards during the Great Recession, more so than anywhere else in the UK. It is unreasonable to the point of being outrageous that anyone would think that they can get away without contributing to the very real burden this has caused us all.
Yet, thus far, the fact is the brunt has been borne by the private and voluntary sector suffering job losses, reduced hours and lower wages. At the same time (and note this is not an attack, it is a fact – let us be clear about the distinction) no compulsory redundancies and no pay cuts of any kind in any part of the public sector.
Despite this, no one is suggesting compulsory redundancies or pay cuts for the public sector – a remarkable piece of solidarity with public sector workers on the part of the rest of us. The Assembly has merely decided that, given the appalling economic circumstances towards for which absolutely everyone else has suffered, public sector workers should perhaps need to save more for their pension in order that we do not all collectively have hand over a £1 billion out of the NI public services budget during the next Assembly term.
The shocking lack of solidarity shown towards the working poor (almost universally to be found among the two thirds of workers in the private and voluntary sector) by Public Sector Unions will not be swiftly forgotten. Alongside business organisations’ appalling failure to advocate swift moves towards higher wages in the private sector, the Unions’ protectionist attitude of a single sector at the expense of the rest of us is a prime factor in “Sector Wars”. We should be thankful that, however reluctantly, the Assembly did what was right so that everyone pays their way in our recovery from a Great Recession in which £1 in every £10 has essentially disappeared from us.
I changed the title in response to an entirely reasonable point made by a Twitter correspondent – the type of constructive criticism I wish I had more of on this blog!