Low-pay group to get powers to gradually raise minimum wage

Government set to argue that higher proposed ‘living wage’ is on voluntary basis only

Minister for Business and Employment Ged Nash: he has published draft legislation aimed at establishing the low-pay commission. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Minister for Business and Employment Ged Nash: he has published draft legislation aimed at establishing the low-pay commission. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

The new commission on low pay is to be given the power to recommend the national minimum wage should be increased progressively over time. However, the Government is set to argue that the higher proposed “living wage” can be introduced on a voluntary basis only.

Draft legislation aimed at establishing the commission has been published by Minister for Business and Employment Ged Nash.

Under it, the commission will be mandated to make recommendations “that are designed to set a minimum wage that, is fair and sustainable, and when appropriate, is adjusted incrementally, and that, over time, is progressively increased to assist as many low-paid workers as is reasonably practicable without creating significant adverse consequences for employment or competitiveness”.

The minimum wage stands at €8.65 an hour but members of the Government have signalled it is likely to be raised in the months ahead. Last weekend the president of Siptu, Jack O’Connor, urged the introduction of a higher “living wage” of €11.45 an hour.

Godparent to living wage

However, in a speech to be delivered today

Mr Nash will argue: “While the Government may stand as godparent to the living wage, we are not in charge of its delivery. No Government ever can be, and nor should it be. That function belongs to employers, workers and civil society.

“The living wage isn’t a creature of statute but is instead an independently assessed and agreed measure of the income necessary to meet basic needs. And this is what makes the concept interesting and compelling. It is higher than the minimum wage, which might in some cases still have to be supplemented by welfare payments.”

Mr Nash, in his speech at an event organised by employers’ association Ibec, will claim employers and trade unions “might be surprised at the depth of hostility amongst public representatives of all parties to a return to full-blown social partnership”.

Legislators

supplanted “This is not just ideological hostility from those who resent interference in free markets. It is also a resistance to what they see as the function of public representatives and legislators being supplanted by those without an electoral mandate.”

He will also be highly critical of employers in the hotel sector, who availed of tax benefits provided by the Government but who are boycotting new structures – revised joint labour committees – put in place to determine pay and conditions in the sector.

“As a public representative and Minister it irks me that a sector such as the hotel industry, which has benefited from favourable Government policies under successive administrations – including this Government’s VAT reductions for their sector – can select and reject Government policy as it sees fit,” the Minister will say.

“Government policy is that a joint labour committee for the hotel sector is justified. We believe in the need to provide a mechanism to maintain reasonable employment standards for an unorganised, often short-term or part-time, and therefore vulnerable workforce.”

It is understood the Minister will say some hotels “believe they can staff their hotels and decide on rates of pay without recourse to negotiation, because they think unions do not have the numbers to prevent them”.