A living wage must be attainable for everyone

21 May 2019

Speaking in response to the number of workers on the minimum wage and low wages, the leader of the Labour Party, Brendan Howlin TD, called for investment in Universal Basic Services and an increase in workers’ wages.

Brendan said: “We know from national statistics that around 137,000 people – one in every 13 workers – was earning the minimum wage last year. Working a full-time 39-hour week for €9.80 implies a gross annual income of less than €20,000, or net take home pay of just over €18,000 for a single person.

“Many minimum wage workers are young, four out of five of them are working in the services sector, and women are disproportionately likely to be earning the minimum wage.

“Low pay is not just restricted to those on the minimum wage. More than one in four workers in Ireland are classified as being on ‘low pay’ – earning less than two-thirds of median pay – which implies net take home pay of just over €23,000 for a single person.

“Many of these workers are not unionised. My colleagues Senator Ged Nash and Sheila Nunan, President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and our candidate in Ireland South, are today discussing the role of trade unions in raising pay and ensuring workers have predictable weekly hours. New laws are needed to stop new ways in which workers are being exploited, through bogus self-employment and highly variable weekly hours.

“Our understanding of the role of wages has also changed. Due to the underdevelopment of our public services, public transport and public housing, workers in Ireland have to pay for GP visits, commuting and rents, which are more expensive than in other European countries.

“The Institute for Global Prosperity has just published an important analysis of Universal Basic Services. These are services that are open to everyone, free-of-charge and meet people’s essential needs.

“Universal Basic Services could include subsidised childcare, adult social care, public transport, and subsidised housing. For example, our candidate for Dublin, Alex White, is focused on the delivery of better public transport and public housing in Dublin, which would help the economy function better, while also vastly improving workers’ quality of life.

“New services, such as access to information and communications technology, could also become Universal Basic Services as they become essential to daily life. For example, our candidate in Midlands North-West, Dominic Hannigan, has proposed free public WiFi in all towns as an example of a new type of Universal Basic Service.

“Labour’s vision is for all workers to attain at least a living wage, set at over two-thirds of median income, but also for all workers to have access to Universal Basic Services. These shared public services are vital to bridging the gap between working poverty and the ability to enjoy a decent quality of life. Labour and the Party of European Socialists are committed to a new direction for the European Union that is based on the provision of good quality, universal services.”

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