herald

Monday 18 December 2017

Terry Prone: Yes, the public sector has it tough -- but so does rest of country

Rage against public servants over planned escalation of industrial action is dead easy. But wrong. Justified. But wrong. Satisfying. But wrong.

Why it is wrong to rage against public servants is because most of us depend on them in our daily lives and greatly appreciate what they, as individuals, do for us.

Yesterday, a nurse stayed half an hour after her quitting time to give a distressed asthmatic a nebuliser treatment.

She's just one of the doctors, nurses, teachers and others who nudge their way into our family stories, stories dotted with phrases such as, "I really do not know how I would have survived without him or her".

Each of us knows a family where the lone breadwinner is a public servant financially bruised by the pension levy and other cutbacks.

Decent people who contributed not a whit to the financial meltdown and who read with disbelief stories of other public servants getting dollops of caviar and flutes of champagne under the heading "expenses."

They can't imagine what that kind of life must be like, because they've never experienced it.

What they experienced was decent living and careful planning for the future, and they now find themselves with the rug yanked from under their feet, upending them into a constant terror of missing a mortgage payment.

We know public servants as individuals and friends.

It's only when they become a category led by a trade unionist that we turn on them.

As happened on Joe Duffy's Liveline programme, where a woman within the public service, earning what could only be described as a modest salary, complained about her circumstances and encountered such virulent hostility from non-public servants telephoning the show that she simply hung up.

She must have been baffled by her on-air assault and battery, because she was telling the truth. She may have a permanent and pensionable job, but she's still in trouble, as are public servants all around this country, some of them married to other public servants who also feel the Government has taken a hammer to their piggybank, some of them partnered with private sector workers who have lost their jobs.

No matter which way you slice it, it's tough.

But the situation is desperately tough for others, too.

The ones who worked hard in school, qualified as architects or engineers or accountants, delivered during the good years -- and now find themselves in the dole queues.

At least, they say, at least the public servants have a job to go to.

When public service strikes come into that context, all sympathy dies. School closures for half days at a time wreck the head of parents still in employment who have to take time off to child-mind.

When you have a problem that can be solved only by a branch of the public service, not being able to reach a public servant on the phone is maddening and in some cases frightening. Ratcheting up the current industrial action simply infuriates otherwise sympathetic private sector workers and unemployed people.

They see it as a pointless waste of time, an expression of anger that will have no effect on the Government, and seriously bad effects on the general public, who aren't guilty of anything. They're not going to go to their local TD and say "Would you for God's sake throw a few quid at the public servants," because they know the Government doesn't have that money.

They "get" the depth of the national problem.

They figure the action cannot roll back this Government policy. They think it's stupid to take industrial action that can't work. They think the public service unions DON'T "get" the depth of the problem.

And that makes them even angrier.

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