Coun­cil­lors, nurses and just wages


‘THE LABOURER de­serves his wages’ is a fa­mil­iar phrase from the Gospels that was ut­tered by Christ and re­peated by St Paul in his let­ters. Those five words stand as the foun­da­tion of Catholic So­cial Teach­ing, and I re­mem­ber well be­ing lec­tured about it in col­lege, and hear­ing about Pope Leo XIII’s en­cycli­cal Rerum No­varum, and Pope John Paul II’s 1991 en­cycli­cal Cen­tes­imus An­nus.

I of­ten thought that there was noth­ing more painful than hav­ing to sit through lec­tures on such a ba­nal topic! But they say that ev­ery­thing you learn stands to you, and you never know when it might make sense in the fu­ture. I think that moment has fi­nally ar­rived for me, and at last I can re­late to what those two old popes, among oth­ers, were say­ing, and I can un­der­stand why they were speak­ing about it.

The ba­sic tenets of Catholic So­cial Teach­ing say that a worker has a right to de­cent work, to just wages, to se­cu­rity of em­ploy­ment, to ad­e­quate rest and hol­i­days, to lim­i­ta­tion of hours of work, to health and safety pro­tec­tion, to non-dis­crim­i­na­tion, to form and join trade unions, and, as a last re­sort, to go on strike.

Over the past while we’ve been hear­ing about the new scheme be­ing run by the HSE to re­cruit ‘grad­u­ate nurses’ on a re­duced salary of only €22,000 and of­fer them two-year con­tracts in­stead of reg­u­lar con­tracts. There’s been a pretty big back­lash to this brave move by the Government, with the nurs­ing unions urg­ing peo­ple to boy­cott the scheme.

One spokesman for the Psy­chi­atric Nurses As­so­ci­a­tion said that af­ter study­ing four years for a nurs­ing de­gree, th­ese nurses would be paid a salary which works out at about €10.50 per hour. He said that they’d earn more work­ing in Aldi!

The whole idea of there be­ing such a thing as a ‘grad­u­ate nurse’ is ridicu­lous in the first place. You’re ei­ther a nurse or you’re not, you have the same qual­i­fi­ca­tions, you do the same work, you en­dure the same chronic con­di­tions in our hos­pi­tals, and you do it all so that you can get an hon­est day’s pay for an hon­est day’s work. Surely this labourer de­serves his or her wages?

The Government has the un­en­vi­able job of try­ing to re­duce the pub­lic sec­tor wage bill by €1bn, and fair enough, it has to try to find ways to achieve that. But the wages that are cre­at­ing such a mas­sive drain on the pub­lic purse aren’t the wages of pub­lic sec­tor work­ers on €20,000 or €30,000. No, those who are re­ceiv­ing €70,000 or €80,000 or €100,000 – those are the wage pack­ets that are caus­ing the prob­lem, not those who are low­est paid and hard­est work­ing, like the nurses!

Mean­while, back on ‘ planet mad­ness’, we read about an­other group of peo­ple whose yearly salary is a lit­tle bit more than the €22,000 we’re of­fer­ing our nurses, and all they really have to do is at­tend a monthly meet­ing and a few other so­cial gath­er­ings to come up with ways of jus­ti­fy­ing their ex­is­tence. All county coun­cil­lors re­ceive a yearly salary of €16,724, plus a €2,300 ba­sic travel al­lowance and €440 a month for out-of-pocket ex­penses (what­ever they are).

The ba­sic amount which a coun­cil­lor is en­ti­tled to claim an­nu­ally is €24,304. Maybe they’re worth it, I don’t know. I’ve no real dif­fi­culty with them be­ing paid rea­son­able costs for rep­re­sent­ing their con­stituents and work­ing on our be­half, I don’t really mind. They stood for elec­tion and were duly elected and the best of luck to them.

But in the name of all that’s any way re­motely sen­si­ble, how can we pos­si­bly jus­tify paying them €2,304 more than some­one who stud­ies for four years for a de­gree and works long hard hours week-in and week­out, car­ing for our sick and dy­ing rel­a­tives?

‘ The labourer de­serves his wages.’ I won­der which labourer that is?

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