Editor's Viewpoint: Public sector must not be demonised
The sheer scale of the turnout at yesterday's public sector workers' strike shows the depth of feeling over the threats to their pensions and pay.
Quite understandably they wish to retain, as far as possible, the terms and conditions they presently enjoy. But that is not to doubt their dedication to the public services they perform, for they fear continual erosion of funding will result in a lessening of services and job losses.
The anger of the workers was evident and their targets were obvious. The government is keen to emphasise that in times of austerity everyone must tighten their belts, but that is patently not true. While workers are experiencing pay freezes, even cuts, executives continue to enjoy large increases and bonuses and the government appears powerless to rein in excesses in the boardrooms. The government should drop its pretence that we are all in this together, for that is clearly not the case.
It is undeniable that the Northern Ireland economy needs to be rebalanced as there is a huge over-dependence on the public sector. Everyone accepts that we cannot continue to rely on the public purse for our wellbeing. A bloated public sector will stifle the required enterprise needed to kickstart the private sector. But any change will be gradual especially in these recessionary times and government should seek to trim the public budget as sensitively as possible and with as much agreement as possible.
The danger is that some people will try to create a divide between public and private sector workers. Certainly public sector workers, on average, enjoy better wage levels and employment terms but that is no excuse to demonise them. Quite simply they are part of our workforce and their jobs are as important and as valued as those in the private sector. The pay gap must be narrowed, but better by growth in the private sector than by savage cuts in the public sector. In any case, the public sector has shown that it will not be silenced or cowed.