Tag Archives: equality

Pesky Public Pensions

Those pesky public sector workers.  Them and their pensions are costing us money, and we need to sort it out.

Of course their unions are going to stand up for them, they are entitled to do so.

So runs the core of the argument by Paschal Donoghue, the minister for Public Expenditure.

It is now nearly nine years since the infamous bank guarantee, and we will be paying the cost of that mistake for years to come.  That mistake, on top of a property bubble and a global financial crisis created a financial crisis in Ireland that has cost us in an obvious business level, but also cost Ireland as a society: one just needs to look at the trolly crisis in hospitals, the cutting of resources in the Gardaí, in schools, in the broader public service.

It may have got old to say this by now, but the people being made to pay for the crisis were not the ones who created it.  The ongoing cost of the bank guarantee alone was something like €60 billion euro, with the interest costing approximately €1 billion every year. And yet, despite not being the ones to cause this crisis (it’s not over as we’re still paying the costs), members of the public service are still expected to suffer penalties.

For a while now the Fine Gael line has been that the public service bill is too high, and was part of the problem. And so, the public sector took some brutal pay cuts and changes to conditions in order to help the country as a whole deal with the mess that we, as a society, were in.

That cost has proven to be huge.

  • People have died while waiting on trollies in hospitals.
  • A&E units are swamped, leading to longer waiting times with greater stress on patients and medical staff
  • School resources cut and pupil/teacher ratios increased leading to poorer outcomes for many students
  • Longer working hours across the public service, less pay, and even less pay for those unfortunate enough to get their jobs after 2011
  • Wives and partners of those serving in the Army forced to protest because the pay is so poor

And yet, even with all this, the minister decides to push the idea that the public service costs too much and that he needs to cut where he can – with pensions the focus of today’s agenda.  Yes, we’ll finally reduce the pension levy, but must find a different way to get you to pay for the pensions.  So, um, get rid of the levy so long as we can keep the levy?

For me, there’s a premise behind all of this.  That the public service is a low-value cost, that should be cut where possible.  It’s a premise that I refuse to accept.

The public service is an integral part of Irish society, and is an excellent investment.

Just look at the work done by so many people across so many different parts of the public sector.  

  • Look at how hard our nurses and doctors work
  • Look at what teachers bring to and from their students
  • Look at the pride our navy has brought us from its mission in the Mediterranean

Fine Gael has managed to dominate the discussion of public sector pay by simplifying it to basic numbers.  An effective and healthy public service is more than a simplistic stating of the blunt cost.  The cost must be understood in context, and the value of what is achieved by the public service.  There is great value in the work being done, and it is Fine Gael that is devaluing it.

Fair and Equitable?

If one is to believe his appearances on news programmes recently, Our Dear Leader is a champion of all things ‘Fair and Equitable’.  In the government’s current spat with the ASTI Enda Kenny has resorted to a regular set of phrases designed to make the ASTI position appear to be, simply unfair (and possibly inequitable).

It really is a genius piece of spin.  Had we stayed within Lansdowne Road then younger members would benefit financially.  However, this is “contingent on the introduction of certain reform measures”  (have a look, paragraph 2 of the press release).  This all glosses over the simple fact that even with this increase, new teachers (within Lansdowne Road) are still paid a substandard starting salary in comparison to their pre-2011 counterparts.

The government is excellent at trumpeting good news in a manner to hide underlying facts.  The recent announcement regarding extra SNAs is really just a Cup and Ball Trick.

But I digress – Enda’s language got me thinking that if Fine Gael really is the arbiter of what’s fair and equitable in Education, then maybe FG policy is a shining example of how to treat the Education Sector with fairness.  So let’s have a quick recap of FG policies in relation to Education:

Repeated cuts in School Capitation

Capitation is the basis for a school budget.  Each school depends on capitation to pay the bills, hire the busses, get the books, repair the leaks, etc.  While all schools have had their capitation cut – this is inequitable.  Schools with a wealthier catchment area can rely on parents to subsidise some of the expenses.  Schools in a disadvantaged simply don’t have this option.

Increase the Pupil Teacher Ratio

In a larger classroom students don’t get the same level of attention.  It’s that simple.  Anyone who is claiming that a larger P/T ratio does not affect students is either untruthful or deluded.  Students benefit when their teacher can pay attention.

Get rid of Guidance Counsellors

It’s not easy to discern what you want to do with your life, and how to pick the best subjects and college courses for you.  That’s the job of guidance counsellors, and apparently one that the Government thinks we can do without.  Sure, they’ll argue that schools can now allocate resources as they see fit.  Really?  The choice is no guidance counsellor or yet larger class sizes.  Unless the school has the wealthier catchment area, in which case it may have the resources to fund a guidance counsellor.

Reduce supports for students with Special Education Needs

Fewer SNAs, fewer resource teachers. Think about this one – the group of students with the greatest challenges in school have had their supports cut.  How about that for fairness?

Strip resources for the National Educational Psychological Service (via the moratorium on employment)

NEPS provides huge support to schools.  One facet of this support is assessment – schools get access to a NEPS psychologist, and can provide some assessments during the year.  (Well, since the cuts, that now means ONE assessment for many schools).  Again, this is inequitable – some families can afford private assessments, some cannot.

Removal of middle management posts (Assistant Principal and Special Duties)

In any career people like to have the option of professional progression.  The removal of posts has removed that option for the vast majority of teachers.  Schools now depend on goodwill to get a number of jobs done – and this is putting more stress on principals and existing post holders.

Cut Teachers’ pay (in a number of ways – USC, Pension Related Deduction, Freeze increments)

Any teacher can look at his or her payslip and see all the extra deductions that are there.  The PRD grates as we have always paid into our pension, and have viewed a pension as ‘deferred pay’.  All workers suffer under the USC.  For a number of years we have had increments frozen.  The net affect of all of this is that teachers are still being paid less now than they were in 2007.

Cut Pay for the youngest teachers

I honestly don’t know exactly how this one happened.  Some say that the unions sold out the younger workers, and others say that this cut was done under FEMPI, beyond the control of the unions.  Maybe the unions were simply out-manoeuvred.  The simple fact is that our younger colleagues are on an inferior scale, and our government is unwilling to accept the principle that NQTs are entitled to equal pay for equal work.

Cut the rates and allowances for working for the State Examinations Commission

Just about every teacher has worked for a while correcting exams.  My first time doing it I was told I was about to undertake ‘the best inservice training ever’.  And it was.  The money was also pretty good.  However that has all been cut -and a number of experienced teachers have given up.  Come June and you will find the SEC posting ads for some positions that have not yet been filled.

Cut mileage and conference allocations

Attending conferences is good for professional development.  However, new rules mean that many of these conferences now take place on weekends, and any allowances for getting there are cut.  The fact that the conferences are still taking place is a testament to the professionalism of teachers who are giving up free time to improve their professional practice.

Change the sick pay entitlements

Nobody wants to get sick – but it is nice to know that if you get sick then there is a safety net to help. However the length of time this support is in place for has been cut.  Something that adds to the worry and stress of any teacher facing a serious illness.

 

Add to all of this we have a Taoiseach who has repeatedly been unwilling to give a straight answer to the question if he would be prepared to accept the principle of equal pay.

So, it’s a bit rich when Enda talks about his government working constantly for what’s ‘Fair and Equitable’.  His policies speak far louder than his words.  Fine Gael has overseen years of cuts in education and appears to have no intention to reverse these cuts.  Fairness and Equality have nothing to do with their policies.  The only thing that seems to matter is to balance a budget.

Stand Up

People who read this blog may know that I am no fan of Fine Gael.  Since their landslide victory in 2011 they have pursued an agenda that has led to terrible hardship amongst the poorer members of society.

Homelessness is on the rise, we still have direct provision, the health service is on its knees, we have multiple new taxes, and public servants (in the truest sense of that term) have had to make huge sacrifices For The Good Of The Country.  We were sold this sacrifice ‘For The Good Of All’, for the good of the country, and shur, dontcha know that it’s only temporary and we’ll get your pay back as soon as we can.

Well, weren’t we in for the surprise.

Across the public service workers were implicitly accused of being ‘unproductive’.  Apparently the cure for this was to cut staffing levels and ask everyone to work an extra 33 hours per year for free.  Please feel free to define ‘Productivity’ as it applies to doctors, nurses, gardai, or teachers.

Add to this the slashing of budgets, the degradation of working conditions, and a concerted media campaign have ensured a demoralised public service.  Let us not forget the fear factor.  FEMPI has been waved as a stick to go with the elusive carrot in negotiations.

Some of what has been done is reprehensible.  The different pay scales for new entrants is abhorrent.  It has also been used to drive a wedge into the unions.

You see, despite the claims that the unions have sold out their junior members, I think that its more simple and more depressing than that.  The government negotiators outmanoeuvred the unions.  I do believe the unions should have taken up the fight for young members a lot sooner.

However, as the saying goes, if the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.

The unions are finally standing up for their younger members – and in some cases the fight is about restoring pay to pre-2008 levels.

And the government are going to fight this tooth and nail.  Just look at the use of FEMPI against ASTI members following the rejection of the latest agreement.

For whatever ideological reason, some branches of the media are backing up the government on this.  In the Independent today Eddie Molloy argued that giving into the unions would ‘hurt us all’. Of course he used far more emotive language.  Also today the editorial in the Indo refers to the GRA pay claims as ‘Brinkmanship‘, and that it ‘holds us all to ransom.

This stuff is hard to stomach.  Across the public service employees have faced sub-standard wages for the bones of a decade.  And yet now that we are told that the recession is over, now that we have been asked to ‘keep the recovery going’, now that the central bank can say that government finances are 1/2 billion ahead of target (again), now we are accused of being selfish.

Now is the time for the unions to stand together and fight for reversals of the cuts that have plagued the public service.  Of course there are differences of opinion within the unions.  We are democratic organisations and difference is healthy.  But enough is enough.  We need to fight the government and its anti-public service agenda.

And don’t buy the indo.

Edit:

I love this piece on Capuchin monkeys rejecting pay inequality:

Senior Cycle Debates

Today I was teaching Religion with a group of of Senior Cycle students, and we were looking at ‘The Search For Meaning & Values’.

I’d stumbled on the following interview with Kurt Cobain.  At one point he talks about his friendships with women, and how he felt that women were oppressed. (The clip is only 5 minutes long – and worth watching)

As a group we then started debating more about whether the group felt that women were actually oppressed in the modern world.

Unsurprisingly, the girls in the class all said ‘yes’ that women are oppressed.  Interestingly for me, they focused on the idea of women being expected to stay at home to cook and clean.  The guys felt that women were not oppressed.    And chaos ensued for the next few minutes!

The idea that women are not treated as equal was new (and news) for some of the lads gathered.  But, fair play to them, they were willing to listen and consider the implications.

I added the idea that oppression becomes apparent when women are excluded from top jobs in some companies.  But what really opened up the discussion was when we spoke about the Stanford Rape Case.  I brought up some sections of the victim’s letter (The full version is here), and it really brought up a good discussion among the students.  (Students?  They are young adults.  Some of the class are 18 years, and all have a maturity way beyond that which I possessed when I was their age).

What becomes tricky is how to handle such a debate when you have a group of young adults.  I have a particular set of values – and no guarantee that the students share them with me.  Of far more importance is the fact that students could be affected by what we were discussing.  When guiding such a debate you need to be familiar with your group.  The debate may not be appropriate or possible depending on who’s sitting in front of you.

I was so impressed by the quality of thought process of the students.  And of the basic goodness of many of them.  They dealt with many of the issues brought up by the letter in such a mature manner.

It’s a good start to the year with them, and I’m looking forward to many more debates.  Hopefully they will examine their own values in a conscious manner, and actively take part in developing their own sense of Meaning and Values.

Richard Bruton and his Cup and Ball Trick

A few days ago our new Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton announced an increase in the number of Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) in the Irish School System.  Not just one or two, but 860 new SNAs.

This sounds brilliant, and a lot of it is good news.  But I have a fear that there is a lot of plastering over the cracks going on.  Why?  Well there are three main areas that are glossed over in the reports:

 

Population increase.

Ireland’s Population is on the increase.  The 2008 population of Ireland was 4.46 million, and the 2015 population was 4.63 million according to this site. That’s an increase of 170,000 people.

The CSO estimated that the primary school population would go from 502,300 to 556,500 in the period from 2011 to 2016.  In the same period the secondary school population was to grow from 342,400 to 368,600.  That’s a total increase of 80,400.  I think it’s fair to assume a number of those students will need the help of an SNA, don’t you?

 

Shifting Goalposts

In this Irish Examiner article I found the most misleading statement from the Minister to be that every child who needs an SNA will have one.  However, the Department of Education has shifted the goalposts regarding what constitutes “need”.  This article from RTE mentions students who need help with toilet or mobility issues.  The entitlement is restricted to those students with physical needs.

Really?

Yes, students who have physical needs require and deserve support, but what about the student with ADHD, the student who is diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder?  What about students with a range of conditions that prevent them from functioning to their best ability in a mainstream classroom?

Students who would have qualified for an SNA ten years ago are denied access to an SNA under the new regime.  This fact is being buried under an announcement that highlights a necessary increase, but does not address the very many students who have no support.  And this can only hurt their educational achievement.

 

It’s all about the Money, Money, Money

Minister Bruton has said that the money for the extra SNAs will come from his existing budget.  That really doesn’t bode well.  The Education budget has seen some brutal cuts over the past eight years.  I doubt very much that it will be possible to strip assets from one area without causing significant damage.

As it stands the Irish Government seems to be pursuing a policy of Education by budget rather than by aspiration.

And as for Minister Bruton?  He has, rather cleverly, diverted our attention to a good news story so as to distract us to the ongoing affect of continued Austerity in Education.

cup-and-ball-trick

 

Voting Yes

With just over two weeks to go until the Marriage Referendum, things have begun to get ugly in the debates (arguments) between the two camps.

This is perfectly understandable.  Many of us hold quite strong views on marriage, and what it stands for.  The problem is that marriage is not something that is tied down to a simple definition or set of beliefs.  There are as many views on what marriage is as there are married people.  We all hold some kind of opinion of what our own marriage is about – or what we think marriage should be about.  Most of us are in one of two camps.

As you may guess from the title, I’m in the ‘Yes’ camp.

Underpinning many of the arguments of the ‘No’ camp is a set of beliefs based on, well, belief.  Based on faith, and on the doctrine of the Catholic Church, a church of which I’m a member.

One part of Catholic faith that is not pursued in either camp is the idea of an informed conscience.  We each have a conscience and can make choices in our lives, so long as we inform ourselves as to what the choices and consequences are.  For me this means going beyond the headlines of the poster campaigns, and actually thinking about what the referendum means for our country, and for the thousands of people who will be directly affected by our vote on Friday 22nd.

I have written before about some of the main reasons for the ‘No’ vote and why I don’t agree with them.  So I’ll try not to repeat myself here.

Really, it’s this simple:  What is the referendum about?

Forget all the posters, forget all the fancy slogans.  Think – what does this referendum mean for you, for your understanding of marriage, for your understanding of family.

If you believe that marriage is about love, then vote yes to allow those who love each other the chance to proclaim their love in front of friends and family.

If you believe that your faith speaks against this referendum, then consider this.  Not all bishops agree with the Irish Hierarchy.  Recently  German Bishops voted to allow same-sex couples to keep their jobs in the Church.  (In Ireland a teacher can lose their job in a Church funded school if they come out as being Gay.  Apparently we have a long way to go)

For me a faith based argument against the referendum is based on a tenuous premise.  Not everyone in Ireland is Catholic, and of those who are, not everyone agrees with some of the rules of the Church.

And, apart from any of this, I base a lot of my faith on the sayings and actions of Jesus.  He was there for people who were excluded, He was there for those who needed a voice, those who needed love.

Based on this alone, I am voting yes.

Defensores Fidei, and why so many have missed the point

This has been a bad week for a lot of people.

One wit on twitter said it was a bad week for organised religion after the discovery that approximately 800 babies and small children had been disposed of (Not even buried) in what appears to be a septic tank. In other news a woman was killed by her family outside of a court in Pakistan for marrying for love, and in Sudan a woman was given the death penalty for changing her religion.  The wit missed the point.  It was a bad week for women.

A local historian by the name of Catherine Corless went through records and discovered the identities of 796 children who died while their mothers were incarcerated in ‘The Home’ a place for women who had become pregnant outside of marriage.  You can read a full article here.

My friend, Donal O’Keeffe wrote about it here and was published in the Journal here, and brilliantly draws on our humanity, and comes to the depressing conclusion that, as a nation, we simply didn’t care.  And in this I think even Donie missed the point a bit.  People did care, but they cared about the wrong things.

This comes out mostly in the commentary that you can follow online if you look at the attacks on Donal over on the tweet machine, or following his article in the Journal.  Plenty of people seem to care a lot, all right, but they care about protecting an institution.  They are more worried about a perceived attack on the Church rather than on the horrific tragedy of what happened to so many children.

And that is where we lose humanity.

Here’s my messed up theological version of events:

The Catholic Church in the 20th century was resurgent in a new republic after a few centuries of repression.  Suddenly it was the official church, and its leaders were afforded an elevation and power that they were simply not suited for.

The Church as institution became all too powerful, to the extent that people believed more in the Church itself rather than the deity that the Church is supposed to guide people towards.

I believe in God, and I believe that Jesus walked and lived on Earth and taught us a lot of things, and that what he taught us boils down to two ideas – how we should relate to each other and how we should relate to God.

Safe to say that many of the things that happened in the name of the Church during the 20th century are wildly off the mark of how Jesus wanted us to live.  Whatever happened to ‘Love your neighbour’, the lessons of the ‘Good Samaritan’ or ‘the Woman caught in sin’?

After the brutal exposure of so much child abuse you would have hoped that we learned lessons.  That hurts need to be exposed.  That we need to think more of the victims.  That nobody is served when we focus on protecting an institution.

The people on the attack over the past week, the people who think they are protecting the Church, they have missed the point.  The core of this story is the hurt that was endured by hundreds of young mothers and their babies.  The Christ I believe in would not lose that focus.  He would not be involved in attacks on those who have done so much to bring this story to light.

Some Notes:

  • If you want to follow Donal O’Keeffe on Twitter, he’s @Donal_OKeeffe
  • ‘Defensores Fidei’ means ‘defenders of the faith’ Just in case you can’t be bothered going to Google Translate!
  • To whoever wrote the comment ‘it’s been a bad week for organised religion’. Apologies for not referencing you.  I couldn’t re-trace where I’d seen your line originally.