Campaigning for a minimum wage

Let's show them we are serious


CHRISTMAS IS well behind us but Scrooge refuses to go away. Bosses in many shops, restaurants, garages are still paying wages as low as £2.50 per hour. Civil Servants in junior clerical posts are still so badly paid that they qualify for the Family Income Supplement. Thousands of home helps employed by the Health Boards get as little as the £1.40 an hour paid by the Southern Board (incidentally this is a body packed with politicians and their friends).

The ICTU is calling for a £5.00 minimum hourly wage. It's not exactly a great figure, but then the ICTU leadership were never great at standing up for their members. Back in 1995 the "decency threshold" laid down by the Council of Europe was £5.88 an hour, but a fiver an hour would mean a doubling of pay for some workers. According to the Small Firms Association's own recent survey of its members, three quarters of them pay less than £5.00 an hour, and one third pay less than £3.50.

Bertie Ahern's government did set up a National Minimum Wage Commission to look at whether a legally enforceable minimum pay rate should be established, and what that rate should be. But, don't book that Caribbean holiday just yet. The Commission is made up of Evelyn Owens (Chair of the Labour Court), Peter Malone (Managing Director of Jurys Hotel group), Rita Ahern (Managing Director of Greenacres Foods), Phil Flynn (Chair of ICC Bank) and Carmel Bolger (a school principal). Not even a token trade unionist, not a single low paid worker. It's like letting the cats decide how much food the mice should get.

If it is left to government (with the unions' contribution not going beyond polite lobbying, submissions and the occasional publicity stunt) to decide how much the lowest paid should get, it won't be much. Their main role is to look after their rich friends. That is why they have said they will lower all taxes on profits to 12% by 2005. So we can expect to see more tax reductions for the wealthy in the next few years' budgets. AIB and the Bank of Ireland (each of which makes over £1 million a day) will end up paying a lower rate of tax than any PAYE worker.

The Economic & Social Research Institute has predicted that when all the information arrives it will show the share of GNP (all the wealth created in the country) going to wages will be 51% in 1997 and the share to profits 42%. Given that there are relatively few bosses but a lot of workers, we can see in whose interests the system works.

Governments don't have any great problem when it comes to decisions like tax amnesties for the rich. But when it is a question of a little more cash for some of the poorest workers it seemingly becomes a very difficult issue. It requires submissions, a Commission, debates about 'competitiveness', and anything else they can think up.

If we want to see a national minimum wage we will have to fight for it. We only have to look at the French lorry drivers who won their claim by strikes and road blockades. The first step here should be demonstrations by trades councils and union branches outside low paid jobs in their area. From there we should move on to a national work stoppage. If we don't show the government that we are serious we have no reason to expect them to take us seriously.

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According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) 24% of workers in Ireland earn less than 66% of the average wage. According to the tourism training authority (CERT) almost half of its recent graduates are earning less than £150 a week.

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Sam gets 780 pounds an hour

Ever wondered how much cable companies pay for Sky TV (and charge us for it)? It's enough to make BSkyB executive Sam Chisholm a very rich man. Last year he pocketted a staggering stg£6.8 million in salary and bonuses. That's £18,714 a day - or £780.00 an hour. No wonder he has been able to retire, but being a greedy pig he will remain a highly paid consultant to Rupert Murdoch's global TV empire. And it's people like us who end up paying for this guy to wheel an endless string of politicians into the Sky News studios to tell us that our pay rises must be 'moderate'.


This article is from Workers Solidarity No 53 published in January 1998