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A few years ago the ESRI produced a report that purported to show that public sector workers enjoyed a substantial pay premium over their private sector peers. It was immediately seized upon by those who are ideologically opposed to public services and those who would stand to make a fortune out of privatisation as a stick to beat the public sector with.

What wasn’t trumpeted by the PS bashers was the fact that the report was just an academic exercise. No Magister Ludi from Castalia on the Liffey could be expected to stoop to the vulgarity of comparing actual like jobs in each sector so what they did was look at all sorts of charts and tables and apply exquisite and arcane formulae to them to come up with a notional salary for various jobs and then they drew their conclusions from that. A thing of beauty it was to the cognoscenti but entirely worthless in the real world.

Well they’re at it again. This time their target is those who, to use Joan Burton’s words, make the lifestyle choice to go on the dole. People are staying on the dole because, it seems, it costs €142.43 a week to go to work.

The working paper on The Costs of Working in Ireland, which uses 7 year old data, makes a number of assumptions some of which seem counter intuitive – apparently it costs more to heat and light your home if you’re away at work for a significant part of the week – but the real gems are in the part that deals with deal with appearance at work.

“Some companies like their employees to keep up a certain standard of appearance which necessitates the buying of professional clothing from impressive jewelry and watches, the correct shoes, bags and even to the correct hair style. All these items cost money which the employee has to bare. (sic)”

More sophisticated people might not bat an eye on hearing that taking up a job would be conditional on wearing a Rolex and carrying a Prada bag but it’s a novel idea to an old culchie like me.

Staying with clothes the authors are of the opinion that:-

“the highest expenditure on work clothing and expenditure decreases the older the age group which is intuitive as younger people need to buy work clothes for the first time as they enter the job market, however a mature person may have already purchased work clothes in the past and thus only need to replace worn clothes when required.”

How about that? You buy a load of work clothes when you’re young and then patch and darn them until they fall apart and compel you to replace them as you get older.

As might be expected this paper has been accepted uncritically by the media as proof that our social welfare rates are too high – both the Indo and RTE have already called SW rates ‘generous’ on foot of it. Even if we believed the figures had any relevance to 2012 realities it shouldn’t surprise us that that’s the way the story is being spun. Only a very naive person would have expected to hear questions about employers paying a living wage or excessive taxes and charges on low paid workers.

And while all this is going on our so-called left wing politicians are doing intellectual somersaults to defend a tax dodger. Only in Ireland.

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