Opening the seminar – entitled Ireland needs a Pay Rise: Wage floors and economic recovery – Congress General Secretary David Begg said:
“The current debate on how we secure economic recovery is somewhat surreal as it fails to focus on a key driver of growth: wage rises. Domestic demand is the biggest driver of job creation in Ireland and it depends on people having disposable income. After six years of crippling and thoroughly self-defeating austerity, people are finding it very difficult to support their families. In that context, pay rises at a time of near deflation and exceptionally low domestic demand is simply the most rational, logical and common sense policy to pursue.”
Addressing the economic imperative for wage increases, Prof Terrence McDonough of NUI Galway said:
“Rising inequality has been one of the bedrocks of Ireland’s recent economic difficulties. If we are to get beyond our current crisis, we will need to do things differently. One of the most effective strategies will be to encourage rising wages, especially among the lowest paid. This will increase demand and ultimately encourage investment”.
Speaking about ‘Minimum Essential Standards of Living: Expenditure and a Living Wage’, Dr Bernadette McMahon of the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice said:
‘’The experience of the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice (VPSJ) in working with low income households demonstrated the struggle of many families and individuals to make ends meet when dependent on the National Minimum Wage. The subsequent and ongoing research of the VPSJ establishes the facts and figures for a minimum essential standard of living and provides the basis for the development of a living wage – one which meets physical, psychological and social needs and will help to reduce the level of poverty in Ireland”.
Addressing the role of Joint Labour Committees, Dr Joe Wallace of the University of Limerick noted that:
“The JLC system was undoubtedly in need of rationalisation and reform, but arguably the reform should have examined how to better to regulate precarious work and protect vulnerable workers. Criticisms of the onerous burdens placed on Irish employers by the JLC system based on international competitiveness seem to lack merit. They ignore the simple fact that provisions for the extension of collective bargaining in a range of Northern European countries deliver more benefits to employees and were more onerous on employers that the limited JLC protections. Fundamental legal change to provide for an extension of collective bargaining agreements would offer more in terms of the regulation of precarious work than a JLC system which now has limited scope. It would also strengthen the social movements seeking a living wage as mentioned elsewhere in this seminar”.
Outlining strategies for raising the wage floor, Unite researcher Michael Taft said:
“The Living Wage is the new common sense The majority of people would agree that a job should provide enough of a wage to meet basic needs. Raising wage floors benefits everyone in society through higher growth, increased employment and reduced poverty. The goal should be to ensure that by 2020 everyone who is working should earn a Living Wage. That is both a feasible and economically desirable goal”.
Speaking during a panel discussion involving the different groups affected by low pay, Migrant Rights Centre Ireland Director Edel McGinley said:
“People doing the work that is essential to our society – growing and preparing our food, caring for our children and families – have barely enough to live on. Many migrant are concentrated in these sectors and raising the minimum wage would enable them to participate more fully in Irish life”.
Suzanne Griffin of the National Women’s Council said:
“NWCI believes that it should be a priority to take a hard look at incomes of Irish workers.
Over 60% of workers in low paid employment are women, and over a third of these women are in part time work…..working in increasingly precarious conditions. As a direct result of this, they become part of the statistics on rising poverty and deprivation.”
Also speaking on the panel, Aine Mannion of youth group We’re Not Leaving said:
“The type of work available to young people in Ireland today is overwhelmingly temporary, casual, insecure, and low-paid. This is why the Living Wage is so important, as it highlights the need not just for higher wages but for job security. However, the continued expansion of JobBridge and the other labour activation schemes, which replace the concept of training for unpaid labour, completely undermine the concept of a Living Wage”.
Responding to the debate, Congress President John Douglas said:
“As we’ve heard today, a living wage for workers with secure hours of employment would bring benefits, not only to workers, but to the economy and to our society. It is up to all of us – trade unions, civil society groups, legislators and workers themselves – to work together to ensure that our economic recovery is wage-led and is constructed upon a foundation of decency for all members of our society”.
Closing the seminar, Unite Regional Secretary Jimmy Kelly said:
“A sustainable economy recovery must be wage-led. Nearly one-in-four workers in the private sector economy earns below the hourly Living Wage. This will only mire the economy in stagnation and growing inequality. Raising the wage floor is the priority for the trade union movement. And the first step to doing this is an immediate increase in the national minimum wage”, Jimmy Kelly concluded.