Heroes paid peanuts

Few performers call for less applause from the audience, but the medical staff and health care workers, not to mention the lorry drivers, the shelf-stackers and the postmen, could be forgiven for calling “Enough already. After this, what will change for us?”

This is a question worth listening to, because in this morning’s Irish Times there’s a column by Patrick McGarty titled ‘It took a crisis for us to rediscover the worth of social capital”. (Yes, Virginia, if there’s one thing the IT likes it’s a good long, limp headline.) In it McGarty praises the way community and voluntary bodies have responded to the crisis:

In the face of an unprecedented crisis and danger to public health and safety, a sense of community spirit has re-emerged in Ireland that has focussed citizens’ minds on the importance of the collective as opposed to the individual”.

All true. But about sixty years ago, Bernadette Devlin talked about the work of the Vincent de Paul and concluded that the government used the work of the selfless V de P members to slash funding for those in need. Why pay for it when you have nice people who’ll do it for nothing?

In another IT article today, this one by Jack Horgan-Jones, titled ‘Healthcare workers could be asked for fee towards new childcare scheme’ (see above re long and limp),  the point is made that “Frontline healthcare workers could be asked for payments towards a proposed new childcare scheme expected from Government this week”.

So far from having a dramatic improvement in their pay packet when this is all over, healthcare workers in the south may be asked to dip into their pockets and fork out.  Have you heard, in Britain or in Ireland, a single government minister who’s been praising the front-line health people as heroes, angels, courage personified, – have you heard one of them mention the need to pay these heroic people hugely increased salaries? Nope – me neither.

The crisis has shown us, in stark terms, that people like hospital cleaners, lorry drivers and postmen are the rivets that keep society held together. Without them tens of thousands of people would have died – maybe millions.  But you know and I know that these people are NOT going to have their pay jacked up to the level of politicians, accountants, lawyers or CEOs of big firms. It just won’t happen. There’ll be much talk of the length of time a lawyer or accountant must study before being qualified, whereas a shelf-stacker or a lorry-driver just gets in there and does it. 

That last point is true, but it comes back to a point made about a hundred years ago by George Bernard Shaw: it is impossible to differentiate between the value to society of one job over another. All are valuable in different ways (OK, knock the CEO off that list if you want). And since it is impossible to place greater value on one rather than another, the only answer, ethically and practically speaking, is to pay everyone the same.

Universal salary, anyone?

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