The gig economy and bogus self-employment - Sunday Independent article

4 Feb 2019

Gene Kerrigan: 'Why so shy about bogus self-employment?'

The State could pay nurses, the money it needs is there for the taking - but for some reason it doesn't dare, writes Gene Kerrigan


February 3 2019 7:26 PM


Just when you think the people who run this country have reached rock bottom, they find new, lower levels of farce in which to wallow.

They've spent half-a-million euro on another Varadkar vanity project. (He's roped in Bono to help with this one.)

The children's hospital scandal continues. They've decided that their €450,000 inquiry into the runaway costs should not point fingers at any individual, just determine the cause of the massive cost inflation.

(I could write that report for you now: systems failure, must do better, that'll be €450,000, thanks.)

And, in defiance of the law, the Government continues to connive with cheats who defraud Revenue of hundreds of millions every year.

Meanwhile, the Government also continues to employ legions of overpaid mouthpieces to explain why underpaid nurses don't deserve a pay increase.

It seems that if they pay the nurses more, other groups will be encouraged to look for a fair wage.

And the Government can't afford to pay a fair wage because - well, the State doesn't have any money. "We must manage the economy prudently," says the FG/FF Pro-Austerity Alliance (Profit Before People).

Bear that in mind as you read on. They have no money. Got that? They love nurses, but they just don't have the money to pay them the proper rate for the job.

Since the Celtic Tiger episode, many of our Top People have been unable to shake off their delusions. This applies in politics, it applies in banking and in business, it applies in the professions and in the civil service - and most especially it applies in the interface between the public and private sectors.

It wasn't enough that we educate, house, transport and provide health care for our people. The Top People adopted the term "world class" and applied it to every project.

We'd have a "world-class" education system. World-class roads. A world-class light rail system. A world-class soccer manager. If they were installing a light bulb it had to be a world-class light bulb. When they wiped their bums they used world-class toilet paper.

And world-class institutions needed executives on big money.

We knew our bankers were world class because they were paid millions. The head of the FAI was on rock-star wages. With such splendid people in charge, there was no limit to our ambitions.

We ended up with Trapattoni managing our football dreams, and he turned out to be great at cashing big cheques.

The Top People decided that the country could be run as though it was a company. They began to see themselves as CEOs. Whether you were high up in a government department or in a university, you were no longer a mere public servant, you were an activist in the market - and your salary reflected that.

State spending on infrastructure was decided under private sector values.

I bet you'll find that all the executives, professionals and consultants lined up for the children's hospital project are world class - the proof will be in the size of their remuneration.

Watching the Public Accounts Committee trying to extract information on where the children's hospital money went, I was startled to hear that hundreds of millions were spent on something called "communications".

I thought this meant mobile phones, laptops, notepads, pencils and other means by which humans exchange thoughts.

But, we were also told that the €2bn or so already totted up doesn't include the cost of computers.

Then I remembered, "communications" is the currently fashionable word for what we used to call propaganda. And the propaganda pros know how to charge.

Our Top People find all kinds of ways to spend money.

For some time, they've been campaigning to get a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2020/21. It's a world-class position.

They've already spent half a million. And we're assured that if one of our people is appointed it'll be evidence of the great respect in which we're held, globally.

Besides, Varadkar would love to be able to say, "No, can't do Thursday, I've got to be in Manhattan, brief my representative on the UN Security Council - bit of an international crisis, can't say more, top secret".

There are only three candidates for two UN seats, so it doesn't need a big push and you'd imagine they could do it on lunch money - but habits persist, and the bill so far (at least, what they admit to) is €500,000.

We want the UN gig, and we'll spend whatever it takes.

We bribed 150 diplomats with tickets for a U2 concert in New York, in the hope they'll vote for us. Rock 'n' roll rebel Bono told the audience of the joys of being governed by Varadkar and Coveney.

"This is really the top table of world decision-making," Simon says. They love sitting at the top table, our world-class leaders.

Being an obliging chap, Bono helped the campaign make a video. This will impress the voters who couldn't get to the concert. It cost €100,000 to make.

Simon couldn't just hold up his iPhone and have Bono say a few words into the camera, no? There are people working in video who could give you a 10-part Netflix series for €100,000.

So, in pursuit of "world-class" status, we flash the cash. Except to the nurses.

I turn on Virgin TV and Ivan Yates is scornful of those who don't understand that the Government simply doesn't have the money.

Ex-TD Ivan is 59 - he retired from politics in 2002. He qualified at 43 for Dail and ministerial pensions. Last time I looked his pensions totalled about seventy grand a year. That's on top of his lucrative media gigs.

Happily, the State has just about been able to pay the pensions of retired politicians, and the wages for all those executives and their advisers and consultants.

Paying the nurses, on top of all that - well, that must put a strain on the national budget.

If only the Government had a potential source of income - for instance, if there was some widespread illegal practice that was depriving the State of revenue, and all it needed was the political will to...

Funny you should mention that.

I first heard of "bogus self-employment" some years ago, when the mother of a young man who was paid crap wages wrote to me. A year ago, on, writer and activist Martin McMahon published his epic expose of bogus self-employment.

We could get all technical, but basically we have a so-called "gig economy", and various kinds of employment in which employers can dodge PRSI. You simply designate the workers as self-employed, independent contractors, and thereby strip them of their rights and your obligations.

ICTU general secretary Patricia King told an Oireachtas Committee she calculates the State is losing out around €240m a year from this deceit - just from the construction sector alone.

Add the other sectors and within five years you could make up the cost of a children's hospital - and pay the nurses their increase, and every other underpaid State employee.

And you'd still have enough left over to give UN diplomats tickets for a Daniel O'Donnell gig.

Martin McMahon's evidence on the self-employment scam suggests a very high level of State collaboration with the law-breaking.

Oddly enough, Leo Varadkar has never launched a "cheats" campaign against the bosses' self-employment racket.

Damned if I know why.

Sunday Independent