The government and the employers are intensifying their assault on wages and working conditions. Following the same blueprint that they used to attack public sector pay last year, of vilifying anyone with a semblance of job security, the already measly minimum wage is now in their line of fire.
Like a broken record, the establishment parties and the right wing media have rehashed their cries that “we’ve lost our competitive edge” or “we’ve priced ourselves out of the market”. They would much prefer if we accepted the wages and living standards of workers in Poland or in Chinese sweatshops. Yet despite their bawling, the dogs in the street knows that this crisis was caused by the greed and profiteering of a small ring of bankers, developers and speculators – not wage levels!
Let’s not forget that the bosses made record profits during the boom. Up until 2007, the average profit made by companies in Ireland was just under €45,000 per worker per year, twice the average in Britain. Meanwhile, the average price of a house was nine times the average industrial wage.
Minister of State for Labour Affairs, Dara Calleary, plans to implement legislation to allow employers to plead “inability to pay” legal wage rates set by Joint Labour Committees in the notoriously low-paid and exploitative hotel and retail sector. An “inability to pay” clause already pertains to the paltry minimum wage of €8.65 an hour. This clause has never been invoked because of the huge profits that were being made. However, because of the downturn the bosses are putting on the poor mouth and it is only a matter of time before the minimum wage is cut. Faced with this situation, young workers should plead inability to live on crap wages!
This is a huge warning shot to workers that the government is intent on facilitating miserly employers in cutting the minimum wage and lowering wages generally. This is just another step in that direction, because all wages are benchmarked against the minimum wage. Therefore, it is in the interest of all workers to oppose this attack and defend pay.
Such attacks will particularly affect young workers, as well as female and migrant workers that tend to work in the low-paid service sector. It is already a fierce and constant struggle for people trying to live on existing low wages, even without mentioning the 2% income levy they’ve been paying since last May.
Mark Fielding of the small employers group ISME, which has been at the forefront of the attack, himself admitted that the minimum wage was not enough to live on. However, he maintained that, “it is not up to employers pay over the going rate to provide a living income”. That, he said, is the job of the state. Incredibly, ISME feel that the state which collects the vast bulk of its revenue from PAYE workers should subsidise companies paying slave wages. Apparently, workers should pay for the privilege of being exploited by their bosses! Young people should be fighting back against these attacks. The establishment has our future mapped out for us – a future of unemployment for some and yellow pack “McJobs” for the rest. We have to get organised to fight low pay. Socialist Youth will be launching a campaign on this issue. Any young people or workers who agree with what we say, or are affected by the cuts, you should contact us to get involved.