By Shane Finnan
Yesterday Taoiseach Leo Varadkar provoked widespread anger amongst workers and young people with his out-of-touch Thatcherite comments on Newstalk radio. He described the emergency Covid-19 payment of €350 payment as “unsustainable” and “unfair”. It didn’t take long for the ‘we’re all in it together’ mask to slip!
Varadkar’s idea of “unfairness” stems from the fact that nearly 40% of people or 200,000 workers on the Covid-19 payment are better off in receipt of the payment than they were when they were working. The Taoiseach riled up anger by saying that if people refuse to return to work at their employer’s request in the future they will get the Covid-19 payment revoked.
Let’s be clear, the majority of workers who are currently unemployed are in that position because of the pandemic. The idea of a significant cohort of Irish society refusing to go back to work is an argument concocted by the government, IBEC and the media to pave the way for the eventual removal of the Covid-19 payment. The “enforcement” Varadkar spoke of yesterday is forcing many workers back into low-paid, precarious and possibly unsafe working conditions.
The rigged economy
Workers on the minimum wage could work 35 hours a week and by the end of it not even come out with €350. Three hundred and fifty euro a week also translates into €8.75 an hour for a forty hour week. Ireland is a disgracefully low-paid economy with precarious work in retail and hospitality the norm for many young people.
Forty percent of those on the Covid-19 payment earn €300 or less per week. This should be the real scandal; how much hospitality and retail sectors thrive on minimum wage and part time work exploitation! Those rates are what is unsustainable in any economy, not the Covid-19 payment. To return to this status quo is not ‘sustainable’ for working-people, particularly as this will likely coincide with the lifting of the rent freezes, with rents already at disgracefully exorbitant levels.
Workers need a living wage
The 2019 Living Wage rate was €12.30 per hour. This is the average gross salary a single adult (without dependents) working full-time would need to receive to meet all their essential needs. Yet low-paid workers deserve more than this, we need a €15 minimum wage now with no exemptions. The resources exist to pay for this.
The top ten wealthiest people in the country have more money than all 300 of Ireland’s richest a decade ago. The 17 billionaires in Ireland have over €40 billion between them. There is a superabundance of wealth in Ireland but it is hoarded and controlled by a small wealthy elite. Workers should not be expected to work in poverty conditions, while this capitalist elite parasitically enriches itself.
The trade union movement must give a leadership in this pandemic and demand a living wage of €15 an hour for all workers while simultaneously ensuring that no workers are forced to go back to work hastily in unsafe working conditions.