In the excellent Irish Times series on the Living Wage, Mark Fielding, Director of ISME (Irish Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises) has put it bluntly to workers and the nation:
‘It’s not our responsibility to give someone a living wage.’
That’s telling them, Mark. You want a wage that can afford you a minimum adequate standard income, don’t come to us. Not our problem. Be lucky to have a job – if we decide to hire you.
This is Thatcherism Irish-style. There is no such thing as society, only Mark’s members. But to be fair to Mark, he’s got form on this issue.
‘ISME chief executive Mark Fielding called on the Government to scrap the minimum wage . . . He said the minimum wage had failed to benefit the low paid . . . ‘
So scrapping the minimum wage would ‘help’ the lower paid. Hmmm.
Mark is at pains to explain the extraordinary burden his members suffer:
‘The minimum wage is €8.65. But it’s really €9.68, when you take into account employers’ PRSI contributions.’
Oh, my – a wage floor of €9.68 per hour. That sounds really bad. Workers in our hospitality sector (hotels and restaurants) must be really costing Irish employers a bomb – especially in comparison to other EU-15 countries. But is this the case?
Our labour costs (made up almost exclusively of wages and employers’ PRSI) are far lower than most other EU countries in the graph. Labour costs would have to rise by 27 percent just to reach the mean average; they would have to rise by over 50 percent to reach French levels.
Of course, this data (the latest from Eurostat) is from 2011. Maybe Mark is worried about recent trends in low-paid sectors. Let me put his mind at ease. Irish labour costs in hospitality rose by 1.3 percent up to 2013; in the EU they rose by 3.2 percent. We’re even further behind.
That a representative from a business organisation would give out about wages, or paying higher wages, or even paying a decent wage is nothing new or unexpected. However, this ‘whether-people-can-live-on-the-wage-I-pay-has-nothing-to-do-with-me’ position got me to thinking: do all employers think like this? Would they all agree?
It’s hard to say in this country where the debate is dominated, loudly and persistently, by so many Mark Fieldings. But it is interesting to take a look at business organisations overseas, in the US, where such groups are no slouch when it comes to promoting their economic interests.