Wednesday, 20 September 2017
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed) - Priority Questions
Low Pay Commission Remit
33. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to amend the remit of the Low Pay Commission to provide for the achievement of a living wage; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39691/17]
As the Minister knows the living wage technical group said in July last that the wage required for a minimum acceptable standard of living in Ireland is €11.70 an hour. Can the Minister set out a pathway to close the gap between the minimum wage and the living wage, taking account of the fact that it cannot be done instantaneously but over a period of time as suggested by the Labour Party?
I suggest to the Deputy that is not the question that he asked me. The question he did ask was about the remit of the Low Pay Commission.
The Low Pay Commission was established through the National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Act 2015. Its principal function is, once each year, to examine the national minimum hourly rate of pay and to make a recommendation to the Minister regarding the rate, ensuring that any recommendations are evidence based, fair and sustainable, and do not create significant adverse consequences for employment or competitiveness. The 2015 Act also allows the Minister to request the commission to examine and report its views and recommendations on matters related generally to the functions of the commission under the Act.
It is important that Ireland's statutory national minimum wage and the living wage concept are not conflated. The living wage is a voluntary societal initiative centred on the social, business and economic case to ensure that, wherever it can be afforded, employers will pay a rate of pay that provides an income that is sufficient to meet an individual's basic needs, such as housing, food, clothing, transport and health care.
In doing this, the living wage concept does not distinguish between types of earners, for example, between primary breadwinners and second earners such as students in part-time jobs.
I currently have no plans to amend the remit of the Low Pay Commission. On the basis that there was a significant difference between what it returned last year and this year I have made discreet inquiries as to how the deliberations take place, the exact listings for considerations put in place and how they differ from those of the body that deliberates on, considers and arrives at a living wage. I am happy that members of the Low Pay Commission are working very effectively and strongly together. Although I was in Estonia the week it was announced I welcome the 30 cent increase in the minimum wage this year.
I was not confused. The living wage was based on the concept that we should provide an adequate income to enable individuals to afford a socially acceptable standard of living. The Low Pay Commission recommended a 30 cent increase in the minimum wage to come into effect in January which will bring it up to €9.55 an hour. Last year there was a derisory 10 cent.
It is almost 18 months since the Government was formed and it has yet to provide any guidance to the Low Pay Commission to even allow it work towards its target of €10.50 an hour which is in the programme for Government, let alone a real living wage of €11.70 an hour.
The Labour Party proposed that the mandate of the Low Pay Commission should be changed to target the minimum wage to 60% of the median wage by 2021 to deliver a living wage for all. I ask the Minister if she will change the remit of the Low Pay Commission to at least deal with her own target of €10.50 per hour. A snail would get from Mullingar to Dublin quicker than the Minister will do this, and that is some 90 km. That is all I am asking. There is a pathological opposition within the Government to ensure this happens. It may not reside with the Minister but I recall that a number of her colleagues were not very happy when I fought to ensure that the reduction of the minimum wage was reversed in 2011.
With respect, and the Deputy knows I have respect for him, opposition Deputies have an ability to make sweeping statements about Fine Gael before adding "Oh, well you might be different". Let me be very clear: I am privileged to be the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection with the Low Pay Commission under my remit. There is no doubt in my mind that during the duration of this programme for Government we will achieve the target of €10.50 set down therein, assuming that the three year supply confidence arrangement with Fianna Fáil in opposition survives.
There is no reason for me to change the remit of the Low Pay Commission. It has not asked for it and the standard formula that it uses is still very current and is reflective of society. I will reiterate for clarity that as long as I am Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the commitment made in the programme for Government to ensure that the minimum wage is increased to €10.50 will stand.
I welcome that commitment in so far as it goes and accept the Minister's bona fides but she should not tell me that there is not pathological opposition towards pay rises among some of her colleagues. I am clear about that and if she wishes me to name names, I will do so, if pushed. In all wage increases there is an opt-out provision for employers who will be unable to pay them because their balance sheets or turnovers will not allow that. I accept that but 10% of people are earning the minimum wage, a percentage that is too high. I appreciate that there would be a 10% elimination, but let us try to get that. I acknowledge that the Minister is committed to getting the rate to €10.50 and her bona fides cannot be questioned on this. We will be there to support her in case of any recalcitrant colleague or two in government who want to stop her.
I cannot put it more strongly. It is in the programme for Government. I am in the lucky position of being responsible for achieving that goal and can genuinely say there is no ideological opposition from this cailín.