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Fruits of labour

Horace Camp | Published:

MY ORIGINAL intention was for today’s column to be about nurses’ pay.

Why should nurses settle for apples when others get to gorge on juicy pears? (Makistock/Shutterstock)

I know nothing about nurses’ pay, very little about the general remuneration policy of the States of Guernsey and therefore felt that I was the right person to pontificate about it.

Usually I sit in my comfortable chair every other Tuesday and let a stream of consciousness flow via my fingertips onto my iPad’s screen until the automatic word count reaches the magic number and I stop. I never review what I’ve written, cut and paste it and send it off by email to my editor, who presumably makes some sense of my jumbled thoughts, corrects my spelling and grammar and creates a silk purse from my pig’s ear.

But for nurses’ pay I thought I should do a little bit of research. With help from a former nursing grandee I managed to source a pay scale document and a brief summary of what it all meant. After some hours grappling with the search engine of Gov.gg, the frequent application of wet towels to my forehead and the consumption of many blood pressure tablets, I found, mostly by luck, a comparative established staff pay scale document.

Already my initial passion to get to the bottom of the issue and pass on my words of wisdom to you, dear reader, was waning under the unusual burden of doing some preparatory work. However I chose to persevere because it is important to be supportive of our nurses, if indeed they need our support.

Do you remember at school being asked, if you have five apples in one hand and six pears in the other, what do you have? The answer to which was always shouted out by some wag in the back row of desks as ‘big hands’.

The real point was that you can’t compare apples and pears.

The nurses’ pay scale is apples and established staff pears. And possibly the pears are more expensive than the apples.

After reading a few articles in the Guernsey Press it started to become clear to me that the nurses were not too unhappy with their apples until they saw established staff gorging on juicy pears. And once they noticed the rich juice running down the chins of civil servants, each apple consumed tended to stick in their collective craw.

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Why do nurses get paid in apples?

They get paid in apples because nurses in the UK get paid in apples. Recognising that Guernsey is a bit special, the nurses and the States agreed that though bog standard Golden Delicious was fine in England, a somewhat better apple, perhaps an individually labelled Pink Lady, would be necessary to tempt them to come to our shores.

Being only used to apples, the nurses’ union, named a Royal College to deceive those of us who think unions are the spawn of the devil, collectively bargained for all nurses to receive a big basket of premium brand apples. Of course, as always when buying big, expensive-looking baskets of fruit, there was subsequent disappointment when it turned out that much of the basket was filled with decorative straw padding and contained not as many apples as it had appeared.

Why did the Royal College (union) not insist on pears? Perhaps because it wasn’t as good at forcing through deals as the civil service unions? And why did the civil servants end up with pears? Possibly because the States negotiators were not as good as the union ones, or even because they were advised by civil servants?

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Do the nurses deserve pears? Some of them, yes. Should the civil service be paid in apples? Some of them, yes.

And it was that realisation that made me think the whole subject was far more complicated than I first thought and so I began to have doubts that I’d chosen the right subject for today’s column.

If I continued, then I would get into the murky place where there was no black and white. Clearly a nurse nibbling her Pippin and observing a civil servant who has fewer qualifications and doesn’t make life or death decisions munching on a Red Sensation Bartlett will start to question why she (there are other genders of nurses) doesn’t deserve one as well. Or even a better one.

No, this nurses thing is just too difficult. Because the next step would have been to look at the States fruit budget. And it is enormous. The only way the nurses’ apples could be swapped for pears would be to ask the taxpayer for considerably more money and that won’t do at all.

We could look at the grapes being purchased for the top civil servants but I can’t see them ever giving them up.

The only way to be fair is to take all the fruit, make it into a nice fruit cocktail and share it out equitably. If we did that then nurses would have some apples and some pears. Established civil servants whose jobs were rated on a par with nursing roles would get the same cocktail. They will of course have to accept some apple with their pear but that’s life isn’t it?

Yes, the nurses issue is just far too big for me to be able to get my mind around it. The only way to really solve it is for the States of Guernsey to pay everyone of its staff fairly by having a single pay scale and mapping all employees to it.

Madness in a system of union shops and collective bargaining by function, where the one who shouts loudest gets the best fruit. There’s no place for equity in such a system. Poor old Deputy Le Tocq, who is the front man for sorting this out, has no hope.

For nurses to get a better deal, some other function has to be downgraded to a worse one. If not, the taxpayer will end up paying more and just make the situation worse. Because once the nurses are munching pears, the civil servants on pears will take umbrage that their differentials have been eroded and insist on grapes.

Then the nurses will choke on their pears and demand grapes.

And that’s why I’m not going to write about the nurses’ pay issue.

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