Below cost selling
Mary Harney never seems to tire of controversy and last week began a new one by saying that she was contemplating lifting the government's ban on below cost selling.
``I want to ensure that the consumers get the best value for money. That means we have to promote competition to the best possible extent,'' she said.
A ban on below cost competition in the grocery trade was introduced in 1988 to stop the larger supermarkets underpricing smaller outlets and shops.
Harney has said that she does not want to see a ``situation where the big players use cut throat pricing initially to knock smaller players out of the market''. However, she has not come forward with proposals for an alternative to the current below cost ban.
The unanswered question relating to food prices in Ireland is why over the past number of years has the minister not acted to ensure that as wholesale food prices fell so did retail prices.
Supermarkets are only interested in cut price selling over a small range of products, particularly staples like milk and bread. Mary Harney needs to act quickly to assure consumers that their interests are being really represented in any new grocery provisions order.
Teachers' 30% wage claim
The Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF) is only barely ratified and already the cracks are beginning to show. Last week, the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) sought the support of the two other teaching unions to lodge a common wage claim of 30%.
The Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) and the Irish National Teachers Organisations (INTO), though not yet supporting the ASTI claim, have made it clear that they will be looking for extra pay from the benchmarking body set up under the PPF. The benchmarking body can give increases in return for productivity concessions.
The Dublin government rejected the claim. Bertie Ahern said last weekend that breaking the PPF would lead to ``an era of industrial disputes, to job losses, to high inflation and falling living standards''.
Ahern also said that the government would not allow ``a two-tier approach whereby some, because of sector or company, would seek to gain undue advantage over everyone else''.
Where does this leave the wage claim led by Fianna Fáil TDs for a 28% wage rise. Will they be a special case? Time will tell if Bertie Ahern will lead by example.