Saturday, November 7, 2009

From the Personal to the Political - in a Winter of Discontent

I haven't blogged for weeks now and wondering why, I guess it's that I've been very busy as it's been a time of flux in a lot of ways. Swine flu vaccination has started at work and I am on the first designated team, which has been active for the past week. It is very busy and a new experience for most of us as Mass Vaccination Clinics are a rare enough occurence in Ireland. I would have encountered them overseas particularly in developing countries where they are a staple of UNICEF programmes, and are very effective public health initiatives. I may come back to this in another post.

Meanwhile, back to more personal issues. Our oldest son Shayne and his partner Jany have moved to Ireland from Spain where he has lived for the past seven and a half years. They are together for the past year and a half and are expecting their first child and our first grandchild in February!

Here they are with Migo the dog (who is in Spain until he can come here next year)

We are delighted they are going to be living in Ireland as we miss our kids when they are away even if they can drive us mad when they are around all the time. That's the dilemma of parenthood, isn't it? We spend years waiting for them to grow up so we can reclaim our exhausted suspended lives and then when they leave for college we miss them more than we imagine. The empty nest syndrome is pretty real and I suppose we won't have it for another five or six years as our daughter is only 13 - it'll be some time yet before we can go on holidays in low season to avail of cheap flights, hotels and everything.

That's if we can afford holidays in the gloom and doom that's predicted with the global recession and depression that Ireland seems headed for with the deflation that's happening - no-one is spending as everyone is terrified of what the budget will bring next month - so there is a greater problem here than in other countries.

The country's headed for a winter of discontent - the public sector is becoming increasingly militant as the government seems determined to exact its pound of flesh inequitably from the public servants who are deemed sitting ducks with secure jobs. It is true that we have better job security than in the private sector where profit drives everything, unlike services that are more nebulous to quantify financially, but it is thanks to strong trade unions that this situation prevails.

We have a government who has already hit the public sector with a pension levy averaging 7.5% since April which I wrote about here, and mileage has been cut by 25% for those of us - like me - who use our cars for our jobs. My petrol bill is increasing as the price at the pumps increases and also my service bill is enormous as I do such high mileage that my costs are no longer covered, and the wear and tear on the car is huge.

There was an Irish Congress of Trade Unions-led protest march held in a number of cities and towns yesterday - the one in Waterford attracted about 8000 from different unions whose members were off duty and could go. I was working so only there in spirit. On the 11th November there is a protest by the 24/7 Frontline Alliance to the Dáil in Dublin. This is all part of the ICTU campaign in the run-up to the Budget next month.

Frontline Services Alliance from DCTV on Vimeo.

They comprise the public sector union members who work shifts and whose premium payments are under threat of being cut or abolished as recommended by the McCarthy report, also known as the Bord Snip Nua report) which I referred to in another post. Most nurses, gardai (police), prison officers and army depend on premium payments for unsocial hours and shift allowances to bring up their generally poor basic pay. If these are cut they will be severely affected, as many have mortgages that factored in their premium and shift payments, and they are effectively considered core pay. Even though I don't qualify for these allowances as my job is 9-5, Mon-Fri, we are all showing solidarity with our hospital colleagues, as are most union members.

There is a strong perception that government and the employers bodies are trying to drive a wedge between the public and private sectors but the thing is everyone is angry that the bailouts for the banks seems to be no problem and yet people are being told they need to sacrifice and that €4.2billion must be shaved from the public pay bill and social welfare payments. We are being told to tighten our belts - even though no one is using that phrase as it has too much baggage, harking back to the Haughey days when he was enjoying a lavish lifestyle at public expense while enjoining us all to make sacrifices. That and the recent ex-Ceann Comhairle (Speaker) John O'Donoghue expenses scandal has only added fuel to that whole fire - one law for the rich and another for the proletariat - the rest of the world according to the elites .

Implementing the recommendations of the Bord Snip Nua report would be political suicide for any government and I can't see even the current Fianna Fáil/Green coalition having the stomach for it, especially since it was dissed by none other than the Tánaiste Mary Coughlan TD who seems to open her mouth only to change feet, so frequent are her gaffes; the best being the reference (in a speech to the IDA) Einstein's theory of evolution.

The next protest is the strike action planned for 24th November,; the unions are currently balloting members and we will know in the INO by midweek as our ballot closes on Monday. Most of the other unions have voted for industrial action and we will probably follow suit. No one wants to strike but we want to be fairly treated and not have to undergo further cuts in the budget while NAMA - the National Asset Management Agency - will provide safety nets for the banks which will have us indebted for years to come. Maybe we are trying hard to keep the IMF wolf from our door but there is no guarantee this will work in the long-term with the current measures. I hope that the Lisbon Treaty's ratification by the Czech Republic last week will boost European unity and enhance mutual support and cooperation - we are not like Iceland cut adrift outside the Eurozone and the EU and thankfully our recent ratification of Lisbon will ensure our place at the European table into the future.

Meanwhile, I look forward to the birth of our grandchild in 2010 and it will certainly be a light on our horizon and shorten what otherwise promises to be a winter of discontent. It will remind me to keep things in perspective and that family and friends are what matter. Although it helps to have financial security and stability, we'll get through this recession like we did before, by showing solidarity and resilience in the face of adversity.


Caroline said...

Congratulations on the expected arrival of your first Grandchild. I am so happy for you that your son is moving back to Ireland.

Cllr Joe Ryan said...

Excellent summary of how things have gone from bad to worse in this country, but the real good news is a grand child. Can the child join the Labour Party in February?!!!
Well done to all!

Rudee said...

Yes, congratulations! This will be an exciting adventure for your family.

We have been asked to make cuts in the not for profit hospital sector, too. I've given back 16 hours of paid time off in the past 6 years. It was to be temporary, but it's not. Wages are stagnant, raises delayed and what used to be benefits paid by the employer are now paid, in part, by the employees. Health insurance through work is not free. I pay around $400 USD per month toward my health insurance. My employer wanted to cut our mileage, but we all told them this was untenable. Really, I wouldn't mind the pinching in these economic times if I didn't know the CEO of our health system earns $2.5 million dollars a year. Not too shabby for someone who works in the not for profit sector, eh?

Catherine said...

Thanks for the comments and for your good wishes! I have passed them on to the happy parents-in-waiting!

CAROLINE - yes it is great to have them both home and that they are staying here for the foreseeable future is terrific even if the economy is in a slump it is worse in Spain.
Thanks again!

Catherine said...

JOE - thanks for the good wishes, and as for the future of Labour Youth I will do my best to proselytise for the party! The father has been an active Labour Youth member in his old UL days and went on many a trip with them - Manus Bree would have been a contemporary of Shaynes' - and he went to Glastonbury working with them one year - great craic I believe. So the credentials are there!

Catherine said...

RUDEE - thanks - we look forward to the adventure! As for the nursing cutbacks - it is really dreadful that you are being expected to cut things when your CEO earns that kind of money - even more than the head of the Irish Health Service Executive earns - he is on a salary of around €400,000 plus bonus of €70,000 which is causing fury that he would even accept his bonus in the times we have of staffing embargoes and freezes and job cuts. I don't understand much about the American healthcare system only that it is frequently for-profit which we can't really understand here - the idea of profiting from people's healthcare seems very immoral from a European perspective, and it is creeping in here now with a number of hospitals from the US coming in - the Beacon and Whitfield Hospitals here are from the UPMC group (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) and are anti-union which also is anathema - the idea that nurses aren't able to join a union or that it isn't recognised is unbelievable. I am glad that you are in the non-profit sector yet can't imagine that a CEO gets that kind of money! It is really incredible. Glad that your mileage wasn't cut. I work a lot with your peers in Hospice care in Ireland and we work well together - especially when there are patients on syringe drivers, we share the care there..
Thanks for sharing that knowledge with me.

Ann said...

Congratulations to the expectant parents and grandparents. A ray of sunshine in the midst of all the gloom and mayhem.

Catherine said...

ANN - thanks for your good wishes - passed them on to the happy parents-to-be. They are getting used to the bad weather and happy to be here with us. hope things go well for them both. Indeed a ray of sunshine in this dark winter. National public sector strike on 24th against more cuts in the budget in December - just to protest against the unfair targeting of the public sector and frontline staff where there have been huge cuts already as I highlighted. Not relishing it but have to do something. I have looked at your blog lately and loved the piece on your college son, resonated with me! Have to add some comments soon!

Niamh Griffin said...

Congratulations on having your family close to you again Catherine!
I'm sure my parents would agree with you about the conflict between loving to visit children living in exciting places and wanting them to be at home too.
I'm quite anxious about what will happen here over the next few months. I really hate how it's being set up as a battle between the public and private sectors when it should be between the Scammers and the rest of us. It would be great to see certain people being fired without golden handshakes.
Let's just concentrate on the good stuff and hope we can get through the rest:)

Catherine said...

Thanks NIAMH, yes we will miss having Spain to visit when they are here - and it looks like they are here to stay. It's great to have them here, and we are very hopeful things will work out - they will have to rely on social welfare for the interim to a job but that's what they paid stamps in Spain for.
I will be on the picket line on 24th along with all the public sector workers, not our preference but we need to remind the govt. not to take more from us, we are already down way more than others. I don't think it's right to drive a wedge between the private and public sectors but that's what they try to do.
look what they've done to the CDPs? (Community Development Projects) they want them to come under the Leader programmes - that is totally ruining their ethos as grassroots organisations with participatory approaches to their work, as Leader is more a funding and business supporting body, disbursing EU funds. The CDPs are fantastic at bringing marginalised people and communities together cohesively and trying to get them into training and self-help. So losing this autonomy will destroy that independence and flexibility. There seems little thought in what McCarthy proposed. as I said elsewhere we live in a society not an economy. Even Wilde was quoted at the march yesterday (24/7) that McCarthy knows the price of everything and the value of nothing (where he recommends removing premium pay and allowances from shift workers).
So hopefully we will survive the budget, without too much slash and burn action.
All the best, Catherine.