It is perhaps understandable that trade unions lost their PR mojo as a result of Social Partnership. After all, there was hardly much need to consider public opinion when they could stroll into Government Buildings and pull the lever on the State (and tax payers’) ATM.
Despite public sector denials, the private sector fears and in many cases has suffered job losses, wage cuts, extra unpaid hours and stress over job insecurity. It has little sympathy for the current go-slow by a protected sector of the workforce which is guaranteed secure employment.
Public sector unions want restoration of pay cuts including the 7.5% pension levy. The average private sector employee would gladly contribute 7.5% of his or her salary if it provided anywhere near the same generous, index linked pension. Such a pension in the private sector would cost 20-30% of salary per month.
The lack of PR nous is most obvious in the Passport Office debacle. The go-slow is denying ordinary workers (not ‘fat cat’ bankers, builders, developers or politicians) passports for themselves and their children.
For any dispute to succeed it must have a modicum of public support. Private sector workers outnumber public sector. Passport Office debacles (and there will be more) that directly hurt the vulnerable will kill off any lingering support and respect for the public sector.
What is more significant, as the Vegetables look for an exit strategy that does not result in them being boiled to mulch, is that the unions could throw a General Election lifeline to Fianna Fail. The Government only has to wait until go-slow sclerosis causes the machinery of State to grind to a halt – further putting everyone’s job at risk.
Fianna Fail then calls a General Election on the single issue of who runs the country – the elected Government or public sector unions? The alternative coalition, with a union appeasing Labour Party, would have no credibility compared to Brian Lenihan’s brave stand to do the right thing by the country.