Coalition back tracks on flawed minimum wage bill
BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN
When is a minimum wage not really the minimum wage? When it is one introduced by the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat coalition. The Minimum Wage Bill debated by Leinster House Deputies last week plans to introduce a whole range of minimum wages below the meagre £4.40 an hour proposed by the new legislation. The £4.40 rate does not apply to workers who earn tips, who are under 18 or who are in their first year of work.
The £4.40 rate has not being index linked to stop inflation reducing its relevance. Only the minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment can raise the wage when taking account of the effects any new rate would have on unemployment, employment, inflation and competitiveness. There is no allowance for setting a wage rate that allows a worker a decent standard of living.
We have a minimum wage bill, but we do not have a fair minimum wage
Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin spoke on the bill, highlighting its many deficiencies. He said: ``This is one of the most overdue bills, but sadly, it is also the most obvious attempt to water down a measure which would rightly have had the support of the general public.
``We have a minimum wage bill, but we do not have a fair minimum wage'' said Ó Caoláin. He highlighted the ``caveats and conditions which create a series of lesser, paler imitations of a minimum wage''.
O Caoláin also said that the legislation ``glosses over an important principle. Minimum wages are being set by central government because employers were paying hourly rates below the so called competitive level and penalising workers on the first step of the employment ladder.
``Many low paid workers are at their posts before many of us get out of bed. They are cleaning, fixing and servicing and they are at work when many of us have long gone to our beds. These people work at weekends and on bank holidays. What does this bill say to these workers?''
Ó Caoláin also raised the issue of taxing the low paid and minimum wage workers. He said that data from the Revenue Commissioners showed that ``the low paid are paying proportionately more income tax than the highest paid in society''.
There was widespread criticism of the bill when it was debated last week, so much so that now the coalition has tentatively committed itself to making amendments to the bill to exclude tips, weekend and holiday bonus payments from being included in the calculation of a worker's hourly wage.
If this actually comes to pass, it will be a welcome first step towards fixing a bill with many flaws, the most glaring of which is that the minimum wage rate is too low to allow workers take the first steps towards achieving a decent standard of living.
What's wrong with the Minimum Wage Bill
£5 hourly rate delayed until October 2002
Under 18s are penalised
New workers are penalised
Full-time minimum wage workers still pay tax
£4.40 hourly rate is not inflation proofed
Service workers tips will be counted as normal wages
Weekend and bank holidays payments will be counted as normal wages
The minimum wage bill must help the low paid take the first steps towards achieving a decent standard of living