Lately, Irish social media has exploded with posts for and against the LUAS workers’ strikes. Specially, their request: for a 53% pay rise on their €32,000 starting salary. It’s hard to look at that and take them seriously, and that’s part of the problem with this situation.
Compare their current situation – 7 weeks training for the aforementioned wage – against those of Junior Doctors, Gardaí, and Newly Qualified Teachers, and you have a meme. This meme is a weapon against the LUAS drivers.
I’m of the opinion that they’re maybe asking for too much in one go. Not that they shouldn’t get something, but that such a massive request is only going to cause disputes. No company can afford to agree to that right out, no matter their profit margins, because it always works its way up the chain.
It should be noted, of course, that the majority of people I’ve seen post or comment on the meme in question are pointing out how greedy the drivers are, while ignoring the injustice against the Gardaí and Junior Doctors (and, though I haven’t seen a post with one, an NQT). The fact is, when public sector workers go on strike for any reason, there tends to be a backlash against them.
This is particularly true in the case of teachers. The entry level salary for a Newly Qualified Teacher – following 4-5 years of third level education – is less than that of a LUAS driver. It is not the fault of the drivers that teachers are paid so little, nor is it the request of the teachers of their wages to be increased. Teacher strikes in the past have focused on the changes to the system, particularly when it comes to increased workloads, and the knock-on effects of changes to the student-teacher ratio and the requirement of teachers to grade their own pupils’ work in state examinations. The interest of the pupils is at the heart of the strike, not the benefit of the teachers.
But just because the LUAS workers are seeking a higher wage does not make their strike action any less relevant than the teachers. The fact is, teaching is a vocation; teachers’ strikes focus on the students’ welfare as a direct result of that. I’m not going to argue that the LUAS drivers are paid too little for their job because, having undertaken teacher training, I know that how a job looks on the outside is not necessarily the complete picture of how much work is involved, or the risks involved in the job that are otherwise unspoken.
There is no legal right to strike in this country, but there’s a certain obligation for companies to look after their staff. Unfortunately, a public backlash can be expected any time a service is disrupted or someone requests more than they have. I have seen too many comments from people suggesting that every driver is fired and replaced – though I’m not sure every one of them voted in favour of strike action, so there’s an ethical issue at hand here; they still can’t cross the picket line, even if they didn’t choose to strike.
Ireland has no “fair wage” policy. We have a minimum wage, which fails to meet the “living wage” calculated independently, and no incentive or requirement for employers to increase the pay of their staff. (I worked for eight years at minimum wage; no one in the shop received a pay rise during that time without receiving an actual promotion.) But here we have a chance to set an example for the sort of wages Ireland’s workforce can expect when the work they do isn’t rewarded in the same way as similar work in their industry – in this case, Irish Rail drivers earning significantly more than their LUAS counterparts.
We’ve also been presented an opportunity to highlight how underpaid some of the most important jobs in the country are – the Gardaí, young doctors, nurses, teachers. This opportunity has been ignored in favour of angry and bitchiness, because the Internet is not the best place to foster a caring and optimistic community. (Particularly not social media, it seems.)
There’s an election this week in Ireland that’ll determine who’ll be paid a significant sum of money every year to attempt to run this country effectively. In the meantime, we’re giving out about people in the same situation as us earning more money than we are, and ignoring the underpaid workers in the public sector. What a time to be alive.