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Public-sector employees’ pay

Mainstream opinion is set against public-sector workers but the figures don’t add up
James Nix

The single biggest categories of public sector employees are in the €20,000 – €30,000 and €30,000 – €40,000 bracket with almost 70,000 in each.  The next biggest category is the 64,000 state workers earning between €10,000 and €20,000.  What’s most striking about the table below, however, is the whopping number of workers – across the state as a whole – earning less than €20,000.  Overall it’s 42% of those in PAYE work, or 807,000 employees in total.  Individually, these workers are more than €12,000 shy of the average industrial wage of €32,730, and how families with two breadwinners make ends meet earning less than €40,000 between them I don’t know.

Overall, public sector employees make up 21% of those in the PAYE system.  However, they are under-represented at the lower-paid level, and over-represented in the €40,000 to €160,000 bracket.  The public sector accounts for just 15% of those earning under €30,000 a year.  Contrast that with the €40,000 to €150,000 bracket.  Here, the public sector consistently beats the one-third mark, reaching a high point in or around the €120,000 level where public sector employees make up 37%.  Above the €160,000 level, the public sector dips down again, and by when it gets above €220,000 accounts for just one twelfth of employees.

Unemployment has risen substantially and almost exclusively in the private sector.  The dated nature of the data must be a problem here.  Essentially, the budget arithmetic is going to be based on figures that are 3 years old and hopelessly outdated.  The following are 2007 figures: 2008 data won’t be available until mid 2010 and even getting hold of outdated data wasn’t easy.  Until February the Department of Finance was keeping to the line that there were little more than 300,000 public sector employees – not 414,600! These blatantly wrong figures (which must have forgotten about the health service, or some other gargantuan error) were given in a response to a question by Richard Bruton on February 17th 2009.  Go to and scroll down to question 142 on that date if you think I’m having you on.

The Department of Finance was in better shape by October.  On the 21st of that month it released the first half of the table below in response to a question by Joan Burton (question 156).  However, the response in October just gave global numbers for those earning more than €100,000 (46,794 employees in the state as a whole, of which 15,278 are in public sector).  The more detailed table below was secured by Green Party TD for Dun Laothaire in Dublin, Ciáran Cuffe on November 4th.

So what pointers does the table offer? Well, that depends on your perspective really.  Here’s my doodle on how to wield the axe.  Would it save €1.3bn? No, it wouldn’t.  It’s deliberately far too light at the lower end of the spectrum.  But, begin in this way, and you’d see how far you’d get and then adjust accordingly.  And don’t think it’s only fit for the recycle bin now since budget day is behind us.  We’ll all be back here in eight or nine months time.