£5-an-hour minimum wage sought
Trade unions have mounted a campaign for the introduction of a national minimum wage. At the weekend, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and IMPACT made submissions to the National Minimum Wage Commission calling for a minimum of £5 an hour. Delegates to the biennial SIPTU conference in Ennis are likely to call for the same rate when they debate the issue on Wednesday.
The average industrial wage is £6.60 an hour. An estimated 25 per cent of Irish workers earn less than this. It is unlikely that the commission will recommend a rate as high as £5, especially if Britain opts for a lower figure.
The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Ms Harney, has asked the commission to report by the end of the year and the unions have begun to focus on
the issue. No trade union or employer body is represented on the commission.
While the Minister has attracted some union criticism over their exclusion, some union leaders are privately glad that they may campaign for a higher rate if the commission recommends less than £5.
Yesterday, the deputy general secretary of IMPACT, Mr Shay Cody, accused employers of hiding behind "the convenient myth" that a minimum wage would cost jobs. "The main effect of a minimum wage would be redistributive," he said.
"Low paid workers would gain and bad employers would be forced to pay a decent wage."
Taxpayers underwrite low pay through Family Income Supplements costing £23 million a year, Mr Cody said. "International evidence and experience suggests that a national minimum wage designed to help eradicate poverty would not have significant negative economic effects."
IMPACT's support for a national minimum wage is important. It is the country's largest public sector union and most of its members would not be in the low-pay category.
ICTU general secretary Mr Peter Cassells said earlier some employers were still coming into the labour market and employing vulnerable people at wages as low as £2 an hour, particularly in the catering sector.
"Behind the glamorous facades of many of our new hotels, restaurants, shops and bars lies the hidden scandal of low paid domestic, waiting and sales staff," he said.