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Back in 2009, when the HSE went to renegotiate the NCHD contract, I was a member of the IMO NCHD Committee. The HSE HR division proposed a package of cuts to NCHDs of an estimated €135 million, out of €300 million total savings that had to be made to the entire health service in the first year of austerity.
The advice we got was to go in with a list of demands that by any reasonable stretch of the imagination were absolutely ridiculous and amounted to as good as a 40 per cent pay rise, while the IMF was stood at the front door jangling the keys of the country. It was a difficult case for us to make. The tactic was that if the HSE wanted to cut our pay by 40 per cent and we wanted to increase it by that amount, on a good day the Labour Court might split the difference, which in essence was what they did. And with the exception of the garden shears taken to the late, lamented training grant, NCHDs experienced no more of a cut than the wider public service. But our starting position demands at the time were stone mad and I know this because I, with others, had to make them.
I’m not fully au fait with the facts of the Luas drivers dispute, but if years of being involved with NCHD disputes taught me anything, it is to treat what is reported about these things in the national media with a pinch of salt, so I tend not to read a massive amount on them, because it is 99 per cent spin and it is my experience that the industrial relations mechanisms of the State in the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court can be relied upon to do a fair and intelligent job. However, I do distinctly recall that everything that is being said about the Luas drivers now was said about us then.
A recent poll on this newspaper’s website suggested Fianna Fáil, the architects of FEMPI, were the most supported political party amongst Irish doctors, with Fine Gael of the under-sixes medical cards, a close second. Bonkers
At this remove, it seems that the main point of contention is that the union is stringently resisting the idea of new entrants being penalised at the expense of incumbents. As a principle, I would expect most doctors who graduated in the last 10 to 15 years to be sympathetic to this. In fact, one reading of this situation might be that if something similar had pertained in our own struggle when the consultant contract was redrawn in 2011, then perhaps Irish hospital medicine might not be quite as stranded in the proximal part of a certain creek without a certain instrument as it is.
A few days ago, somebody from the trade union movement posted on the Facebook page that sprung up for NCHDs in the run-up to the 2013 strike. The person posted a video on the dispute and requested solidarity between unions. The vitriol with which she was treated was absolutely staggering. She was called a communist, told to “f**k off”, called greedy, an idiot, and told to get her “crap off our page”. The poor woman would have gotten a more sympathetic hearing at a meeting of the Bullingdon Club than she did from these individuals, to much back-slapping from their peers, some of whom I know well enough to be sure that they should know a lot better.
This was the same weekend when we commemorated the Easter Rising and the contribution of many doctors, such as Kathleen Lynn, who throughout her life seemed to be acutely aware that as a group of doctors, we serve something greater than ourselves in society and ought to have too much class than to remain anything other than anchored to the people we serve in all of their struggles.
There is a curious dichotomy, I notice, when discussing socio-political issues with colleagues. Essentially, as one of the few groups of what remains of the upper-middle class in the employ of the State, we seem to want socialism and more robust trade unionism for ourselves and capitalism and ‘Reaganomics’ for everyone else.
We want high public pay and investment in public services, yet tend to rush to support the political parties that will make us pay the least tax. A colleague of mine nearly vomited in April of last year when he heard of a modest donation I made to Ed Miliband’s ill-starred campaign here in the UK, yet rails night and day against Jeremy Hunt and his party for whom he proudly voted just nine months ago.
A recent poll on this newspaper’s website suggested Fianna Fáil, the architects of FEMPI, were the most supported political party amongst Irish doctors, with Fine Gael of the under-sixes medical cards, a close second. Bonkers.
As a columnist, it would be customary to finish an article like this with an explanation of the phenomenon, but I don’t think I can even try.