Burton confirms Government will set up low pay commission

Tánaiste also pledges collective bargaining legislation will be prioritised

President Higgins with the newly appointed Ministers at a ceremony in Áras an Uachtaráin, after yesterday’s reshuffle. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

President Higgins with the newly appointed Ministers at a ceremony in Áras an Uachtaráin, after yesterday’s reshuffle. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 20:00

naiste Joan Burton yesterday confirmed the Government would set up a commission on low pay.

The commission was a Labour proposal discussed by Ms Burton and Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the lead-up to yesterday’s reshuffle.

She said the commission would be an independent statutory body and make annual recommendations to the Government about the appropriate level of the minimum wage and related matters.

“By taking politics out of the issue of low pay we will ensure there will be no more attacks on low paid workers to suit short-term whims,” she added.

Ms Burton said the Government would also prioritise the enactment of the collective bargaining legislation, as approved by the Government, to protect and enhance workers’ rights further.

Tax base broadened

Ms Burton said pay and conditions were only part of the solution to raising living standards. The Government had broadened the tax base and put it on a sustainable foundation in order that there would be no repeat of the collapse of the public finances that occurred when the economic crisis struck.

“That work will gradually allow us to reform the income tax system for low and middle income workers, the people who often have to cope with everything, to reduce the amount they pay and allow them to share in the recovery,” she added.

“This is in keeping with the work the Government has already done in removing 330,000 low paid workers from the universal social charge net.”

Ms Burton said building social recovery for workers and their families also meant building homes for them in which to live. “We have moved from a situation where we were building far too many houses in the wrong areas to one where we are building far too few in the right areas, particularly in Dublin,” she added.

She said this was reflected in significant upward house price pressure and an increase in rents, which was having a disproportionate impact on low income families.

“It is imperative that we move urgently to improve the supply of housing for both home purchasers and those renting,” Ms Burton added.

Construction programme

She said housing would be the number one priority of the Department of the Environment for the remainder of the Government’s term. It would set in train a construction programme to triple the number of houses built to 25,000 a year by 2020.

It would also explore creative ways of funding social housing provision and task the National Asset Management Agency to maximise its potential to deliver homes for families, said Ms Burton. Currently, 80,000 construction workers are unemployed.

Such a programme, she added, would create a virtuous circle, helping them back to work, while providing homes for families.

“Helping people back to work creates a second virtuous circle: it improves the public finances and creates room for investment in quality public services which are absolutely essential to the task of reducing inequality in society,” she said.

She said it was through quality public services that every child received an education and that everyone had access to health care, regardless of income.