Lenihan signals minimum wage cut


Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan has signalled the forthcoming Budget could see a drop in the minimum wage.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s News at One, Mr Lenihan said the minimum wage had gone up significantly more than inflation in the years between 2002 and 2008.

The State's minimum wage, at €8.65 per hour, is the second highest in the European Union.

However, the head of one of the country’s biggest unions called for the minimum wage and low-paid workers’ salaries to remain untouched in the drive to secure €15 billion in savings.

Siptu general president Jack O’Connor said imposing cuts on vulnerable workers is an agenda peddled by the elite of society who benefited most from the boom.

“They do not offer any meaningful contribution to the resolution of the economic crisis,” Mr O'Connor said.

Speculation is growing that social welfare will be cut, the minimum wage reduced, new taxes introduced and existing taxes increased as the Government strives to dramatically reduce the cost of running the country and pay for a bank bailout.

Mr O’Connor said calls to reduce low-paid workers’ salaries were “echoing the agenda of that element that floats at the top of society, who were cheer leaders for the property bubble and who benefited most from it”.

Mr O'Connor, who is also president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said the elite were also behind ill-conceived policies that aggravated the downturn over the past two years.

“Now they want to restructure the social architecture of Ireland, which is already one of the most unequal countries in the world, to impose a new, more brutal form of tooth and claw capitalism,” he said.

“Brazenly, they are exploiting the weakened position of the Government to oblige the most vulnerable in society, and middle and lower-income families, to shoulder the burden of adjustment while they escape scot free.

“According to their gospel, the profligacy of the rich can only be redeemed through the crucifixion of the poor.”

Mr O’Connor urged anyone opposed to wage cuts for the lowest paid to join the March for a Better Way demonstration in Dublin city centre next Saturday.

The Unite trade union also urged people to support the march to the GPO.

Unite regional secretary Jimmy Kelly said the country should give the Government to the end of the week to resign.

“Our government has finally surrendered control after two years of what can only be described as incompetence and lies,” Mr Kelly said. “Yet still they go to cut ribbons and profess anger at being questioned on whether they are ashamed of their performance.

“They have treated the Irish people like fools and must step down immediately. We have heard that it is the market’s fault, that the banks lied to them and that it was somehow our fault for questioning them and undermining confidence.” Mr Kelly said the Government was operating sham politics.

“There is no place left at the table for disgraced politicians that have only thought of themselves,” he said.

“They should be forced to step down immediately, relinquishing their fancy cars and crazy expenses and allow the people to decide who it is to negotiate our way out of the mess they have created.”