Women workers most at risk of low pay

31 May 2016

Speaking on the Labour Party Private Members Motion

This motion is tabled by Labour Party deputies to ensure that the rights of Workers remain on the political agenda. We need to maintain the progress that has been made by the Government of 2011 to 2016 beginning with one of its first acts, the restoration of the minimum wage that had been axed by Fianna Fáil.

There are many thousands of workers in this country who still struggle to pay their bills and we intend to champion their cause, as we did, particularly through the leadership of Ged Nash, while in Government.  We make no apology for focussing on low-paid workers.  They should not have to worry about the unpaid bill or the cost of food.  They should have bread and roses; enough to live on and something left over for the enjoyment of life.

More than 60% of those on minimum wage are women. Despite the fight for equal pay for equal work, some sectors which are predominantly female in their workforce have appallingly low rates of pay.  These include child-care, shop work and cleaning.  The 2 increases in minimum wage and the new REO for contract cleaners have made some welcome improvement but we need to move to a situation where the minimum wage rises further to reach 60% of median earnings and where a living wage of €11.50 per hour applies throughout the public sector.

Women working in childcare are amongst those on the lowest of incomes. It is crucial for families, but also for those working in the sector, that the commitments to invest in the cost of childcare are fulfilled.  Quality care and education in the early years of a child’s life, make an enormous difference to each child’s development and chances in life. Those who work in the sector are extremely dedicated but their pay is generally minimal, even if they have a third-level or post-graduate qualification.  The suggestion that tax breaks should be used to assist parents with the cost of child-care would have done nothing to make childcare more affordable, better quality across the board or better paid.  I am glad that the Government has given an assurance that it will not follow this course and I will continue to press for direct support to the sector instead.  Continuing to increase the minimum wage will secure a share of the growing national prosperity to all workers in childcare and other low-paid sectors.

Others who we want to protect through this motion are freelance workers, those forced into bogus self-employment and those on “if and when” contracts.

Dr Michelle O’Sullivan and her team at the Kemmy Business School in UL did a fine job in the comprehensive report they carried out on Zero Hours contracts and their impact.  Their recommendations are practical, fair and should be implemented.

The same is true of the proposals in the Cahill-Duffy review carried out following the shocking overnight closure of Cleary’s and the separation of assets that callously deprived workers of protection.

One of those workers raised an issue with me when I spoke to her this morning which I promised to raise this evening; a colleague of hers, having worked for decades in the retail trade, secured a job in another store, but only on the minimum wage despite his years of experience.  I believe that when the minimum wage is reviewed again, there should be consideration of the need to recognise years of experience in setting pay rates.

We were determined to use our first private members time in this Dáil to advance the rights of low-paid workers.  It is an area around which we should all unite as public representatives and I urge the support of all sides of the House.

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