The Public v. Public Services? An education worker looks at the reality behind media spin

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Employed private sector worker seeks job in the public sector. This is surely an oxymoron... And also, “The cheek!”  –Aren’t you lucky to have a job at all? Why would you want to join those leeching public sector workers, not only as a colleague, but also in protest?!

Guest writer: Roisin Keane

I am an employed (English as a foreign language) teacher yet have been seeking a job in further education (my area of qualification) for several years. This is hardly a major issue; no trips to the social welfare office, and emigration is not on the cards. Ok, so my desired future career is decreasing in attractiveness and possibility (i.e. being flushed down the toilet by the minister for education) but I am hardly the only person who finds myself in this situation. It is safe to say that my many friends and relatives who have emigrated have been hit much harder in their respective professional, casual-labour and newly-graduated teeth by recent developments. This is along with thousands and thousands of other multi-talented, experienced, creative, innovative, interesting people leaving the country every week. But never mind, they can always come back for a visit at the next “Gathering”.

So I am not alone in career frustration. Nor am I alone in the loss of loved-ones and peers. Yet despite the opening line, it isn’t career prospects I wish to talk about. Not even solely education. I wanted to put myself in context. In context, I am in a luxurious position.

I want to talk about the imagined separation between the public sector and the public. The meaning of “public services” (that is, services for the public; for me, for you) seems to have been lost in a fog of monetary terms and recession jargon. Even if I never work in the public sector, I am and will be inescapably affected by cuts to what I, and you, require and should have. I believe this to include a healthcare system that provides caring, thorough and quality services efficiently and effectively to all members of society. I do not believe that this can be achieved by undervalued, under supported and overworked employees. I believe this to include an education system that provides caring, thorough and quality services efficiently and effectively to all members of society. I do not believe that this can be achieved by undervalued, under supported and overworked employees. I could go on repeating myself until my frustration is fully expressed but that would take some time. I will return to education for illustrative purposes.

The Irish constitution recognises the right of children “to a minimum level of education”.  Unfortunately, this minimum level of education is undefined. It also seems to be subject to change. Looking at the demand for and need for the ever-diminishing adult basic and further education services, one can also conclude that the minimum level of education is insufficient and has been unfulfilled. How could it be “necessary” to cut (and all this means – reduce, diminish, deteriorate) services which are intrinsic to a successfully-functioning, caring and participative society? Do we not deserve the best public services that can be provided? What is the minimum level of public service, of education, of health care, of childcare, of social care that we deserve? What should our minimum standard of living be? Surely the answer is the maximum that can be achieved. What exactly is up for negotiation? I would like to discuss and hear discussion of what kind of society we have the potential to achieve. That is all I am willing to settle for.

Supporting public sector workers is defending public services. The public service involves clients as much as it involves careers - An angry patient shouts at hospital staff who take too long to get to her. The staff take too short a time to listen and find it difficult to communicate with an irritated patient. Both staff and patient are upset and come away the lesser from the interaction. This is a recurring story in our public service. How can we change the systems that provide the context for this story and all the other stories we have to tell?

Guest writer: Roisin Keane

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