I am perhaps guilty of adopting the ostrich pose when it comes to benchmarking. I mentioned my anger about the misguided LUAS tram project for Dublin but the proposed salary increases for public sector workers delivered under this benchmarking process makes LUAS look like small change. It is easier to ignore it and hope it goes away. Not only is the original premise flawed - comparing (already comfortable) salaries with “similar” (in reality high-risk) professions in the private sector in order to deliver pay rises to placate public sector unions - but it is a pretty transparent effort to provide a justification for what the government feels will be acceptable to the noisy unions. As Conor pointed out before their calculations don’t take into account the risk premium. Indeed many of the private sector workers, particularly in the high-tech sector, whose remuneration was coveted by their erstwhile teachers - you had the ludicrous claim from teachers that they deserved a slice of their former charges’ big salaries for having educated them - have lost their jobs or been forced to take pay cuts.
I was discussing this with my uncle at the weekend. He made a passing observation about the anger of the public sector unions and it occurred to me that the traditional interpretation of industrial action might be flawed. If unions threaten industrial action it is taken as a given that this is an objective assessment of the insufficiency of the relevant pay and conditions. “Pay/Conditions must be bad, this causes anger resulting in action”. In fact, I wonder if the threat of industrial action has very little to do with how acceptable pay and conditions are and has more to do with whether the union believes a better deal is available. This would explain the preponderance of industrial action in the public, as opposed to private, sector. Those likely to award better pay in the public sector are less directly affected by financial constraints.
A better indicator of the sufficiency of pay and conditions for a particular job is to look at recruitment. By this indicator you could see that the recent dispute by Britain’s
fire-fighters firemen was flawed. The only problem with recruitment in that sector is that there are too many applicants for what is seen as a highly desirable career. Likewise, in Ireland, there are very few sectors exhibiting difficulty in recruiting - nursing is one, and a good candidate for better pay - and public sector jobs are still highly sought-after.
UPDATE: Jon picks up on this and makes a very good point which hadn’t occurred to me:
“Anyway, the point I wanted to make was that terrorist groups have obviously learned a thing or two from unions - or rather both types of organisation operate within similar logical structures. As with unions and striking, many people believe that terrorist attacks objectively reflect legitimate anger caused by genuinely bad conditions of existence, when in fact terrorist attacks have more to do with whether the terrorist group believes it can extract desirable concessions from its target. Furthermore, fulfilling terroristic (or industrial) demands tends to raise the threshold for what are to be considered acceptable conditions….The perverse consequence of credulously yielding to this logic is that extremity of action becomes the standard for assessing the seriousness of the complaint. We saw this after September 11 when many well-intentioned people attributed the attacks to ‘root causes’ such as poverty, oppression and globalisation, believing that only abject misery could inspire such brutality. We hear the same reasoning applied to suicide bombers in Israel: well, what do they have to lose? Surely, we should be asking what they have to gain.”