Politicians & Rich demand wage restraint while raking it in


Union leaders, employers and the government will soon be sitting down to negotiate a new pay round as part of the Towards 2016 ‘partnership’ agreement. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that the bosses will be insisting on wage increases of no more than a few percent. They will troop into TV studios to tell us that anything better is – take your pick - impossible, irresponsible or unaffordable.

TDs will happily join in, and this time government ministers can put on the poor mouth. Sure, haven’t they just deferred their latest rise. Of course that’s easy when you are already getting pay packets it would take a forklift to move. Brian Cowan has seen his own Tainaiste’s salary increased from €95,000 in 1997 to €228,000 in 2007. But that hasn’t stopped him droning on about the “dangers of wage inflation”.

As for 300,000 public sector workers who actually do the work in hospitals, schools, depots and offices; what are they to get? Only 15 of the 109 grades examined by the Benchmarking Body will get increases, and some of those are for the princely sum of 1%.

Average Nurses Annual WAGE: €56000
Finance Minister Biffo Cowens Wage: €270000

Let us not forget the government, last Spring, told nurses that they did indeed deserve a substantial rise but this could only be dealt with through benchmarking, that it was “the only show in town”. What did it deliver? A slap in face, with zero percentage awards for many nursing grades.

The most high profile of public sector bosses is HSE boss Brendan Drumm, who gets a basic salary of €363,000 for running down the health service. When all benefits are added in, Mr Drumm actually costs us €453,000 a year, which is another slap in the face for nurses.

Drumm isn’t even the highest paid semi-state chief executive. That honour goes to Padraig McManus of the ESB. Although they can’t pay their Polish workers in Moneypoint, the ESB are able to treat their CEO to a record-breaking salary of €495,227, including all those little extras, such as pay-related performance bonuses.

Bord na Mona boss John Hourican, pocketed €365,000. RTE’s director general Cathal Goan got €360,000, and An Post’s new boss, Donal Connell, earns €358,000. Although Bord Gais saw an 8% drop in profits, CEO Gerry Walsh was rewarded with of a package of €322,000.

Maybe the “competitive” and “energetic” private sector is different? When SIPTU went looking at the pay packets of some very senior businesspeople last year what did they find? Pathetically small wages? Increases you would need a magnifying glass to see? Not quite.

David Drumm of Anglo-Irish Bank got a 28% increase, taking him to €3,015,000 a year. Liam O’Mahony’s pay at Cement Roadstone jumped by 38% to €2,656,000. Tony O’Reilly got a 24% hike from Independent Newspapers, giving him €1,817,000 a year for a very part-time job, as he draws wages from lots of his other companies. And then there is Eamon Rothwell. This is the man who makes Scrooge look like an especially generous Santa Claus; the man who turned Irish Ferries into a modern version of the slave ship, with workers on less than half the minimum wage. This apostle of a low pay economy got a 51% increase, bringing his annual pay cheque to €1,001,000.

Strange isn’t it? Most politicians and employers want us to be ‘moderate’ and “sensible” when we are looking for a pay rise. If they had their way we would keep “tightening our belts” until we eventually cut ourselves in half. That same need for “moderation” never applies to the rich. No calls for a profit freeze, no restraint in directors’ fees and dividends. OK, it’s not strange, it’s actually the way it’s supposed to be. Bosses are not charities, they want to make as much profit as they possibly can. The system works well for them.

They will always want to reduce the wage bill and increase exploitation, profits and their power; whereas the any workers with sense wants less exploita- tion and increased wages. Those are the opposing interests which lead to class struggle.IBEC, the Irish Farmers Association and the government know which side they are on. They fight hard for their people, the people of property. We need to fight harder for our own interests. Instead of being suckered into ‘partnership’ agreements which keep wage rises low, we should be looking for a lot more. we should be arguing and organising for action and this is the year to do it.

This article is from Workers Solidarity 101 published Jan/Feb 2008

Draft PDF of WS101 - articles will differ from proofread version