Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation

Cost of Living, Minimum Wage Increases and Report of Low Pay Commission: Discussion

Mr. Ultan Courtney:

Quite simply, the national minimum wage is an important component of the national economy. Its history is very simple in that there was no real organisation or representation for people at the lowest level of earnings within the economy. At the time there were allegations of exploitation, misrepresentation and no representation of people at that particular level. The Low Pay Commission and its predecessors came into existence to do something about that and give safeguards.

Mr. Gerry Light was quite correct to say that there is no collective bargaining for that very indistinct group of people that was made up of very different components. For example, the group is comprised of a large percentage of young people. There is also a regional mix. That means the minimum wage is more important the further south, west and north one travels but less important in the midlands and eastern regions. The minimum wage is also important in particular sectors such as accommodation, wholesale and retail areas. It is important that recognition is given to the fact that the group is made up of different groups.

The problem for us in the Low Pay Commission and for organisations who wish to make submissions is to address all of those different groups or combinations or segments of particular sectors with one recommendation that fits all. As members can see, that does not always work because people have different inputs into that. Some people say we should not do this or that which makes it extremely difficult to create a joint recommendation. It would be much easier if we had collective bargaining with a company or firm and dealt with a particular union where both parties had much more perfect knowledge of the circumstances of the business so in that sense it is important.

Form the perspective of the Low Pay Commission, commissioners are all fully conscious of how important the minimum wage is to anyone who gets it. We do believe that it is important as an entry point in terms of people progressing. Evidence shows that people, and sometimes up to 30% of those people in a nine-month period, progressed to the next stage of their pay within the business so the minimum wage can facilitate that. The minimum wage can also facilitate people who wish to pursue further education and do not want to work as many hours as they did. It can act as a very important mechanism for ensuring that people progress within the economy and I think that is important. I am sure that most of us will remember that before one could get secondary education people did not have the education or ability to seek higher paid jobs, which is one of the transformations that has happened in Ireland over the past 70 years.