Time For A Living Wage Not A Minimum Wage

Patrick Donahoe calls for a living wage. Patrick Donahoe is a member of the Padraig Pearse Society Clondalkin/Tallaght and former Organiser with the 1916 Societies.

The passing of the New Year saw an important piece of legislation in the 26-Counties come into being, with the minimum wage increasing from €8.65 to €9.15 an hour.

However, this is some way short of the living wage for Ireland, which stands presently at €11.50 an hour. Shamefully, around 20 percent of Irish workers are earning less than the living wage, with 16 percent of adults in full-time employment living in poverty – the majority of those working in the accommodation and food sector.

But what is the ‘living wage’ defined as? Well simply put, it’s defined as a wage high enough to maintain a normal standard of living. The new minimum wage falls far short of that and with the advent of the Universal Social Charge and living costs increasing, especially in the rent market, the recent small increase will have no real effect on people’s lives who earn the minimum wage, with more going out than coming in.

Added to that, there are approximately 90,000 workers on various jobs schemes, such as ‘Jobsbridge’ (appropriately nicknamed ‘Slavesbridge’), which have been utilised by the government to distort the unemployment figures – the real unemployment figure is 12.9 percent and not the 9.5 percent championed by the government – seeing people working for an extra €20-€50 a week on top of their social welfare and most importantly, for the purposes of the state, taking them off the Live Register.

Sometimes when travel and lunch costs are factored in people are actually worse off. And of course when there is work being offered for virtually nothing there has been no shortage of eager employers happy to exploit people. On a side note, it’s worth mentioning only 27 percent of people received permanent positions having completed their two year Jobsbridge ‘internship’.

Detractors of the Living Wage Campaign, such as Chambers Ireland, say energies should be spent tackling high running costs in Irish households, which seems a passing of the buck regards tackling why such a large section of the population are what’s titled ‘the working poor’. The facts are that we live in a consumer economy, so the more money circulating in the pockets of those who spend it quickest and who spend all of their disposable income (i.e. the working class and working poor) the more this will act as a stimulant for the economy.

A study from the Economic Policy Institute in the USA showed that increasing the minimum wage would inject extra cash into an economy and CREATE jobs, not kill them; with not just anecdotal evidence in theory but with living proof in the US cities that raised their minimum wage to $15 an hour. There is also the moral argument: the argument that nobody who works a 40 hour week should be poor and unable to sustain a decent standard of living.

The slave wages being paid to 20 percent of our working population are the reason so many children go to school hungry and why the ever-increasing rents, particularly in Dublin, are driving people to the streets and hotels – if they’re lucky. The recession has seen many use it as an excuse to attack workers’ pay and conditions. As Bill Clinton once said, ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’. Many employers haven’t.

For instance, the hotel trade in Dublin is booming. There simply is not enough of them and in the world of ‘supply and demand’, low supply means higher prices (thus higher profits), which has been the case in Dublin. And yet it’s worth noting the biggest employer of slave wages in Ireland is the hotel sector. So even with a booming sector, which can’t cope with demand, there has been no trickle down whatsoever to the people at the coalface, those who make it all happen: the workers.

It’s clear this needs to be legislated for and to stop the race to the bottom, we need a real campaign to see a living wage implemented, rather than a minimum slave wage that fails to give the people enough to meet their daily needs. The only party on the constitutional side to come out in favour of such a proposal is the Labour Party. So the push for change will have to come, as always, from ourselves, the people.

It would be great to see a popular campaign on this issue, akin to the anti-water tax campaign, but the thing about that was it affected everyone – this only affects 20 percent of the population directly. Unfortunately, we don’t have a politicised populace that cares enough about issues not directly affecting them and therein lies the root of most of our ills. That said, this being the year that it is, if there is to be a positive change then surely 2016 is the year for it.

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