Workers at Tesco’s have voted overwhelmingly for industrial action to resist the proposed wage cuts that management is demanding. The issue is now going to the Workplace Relation Commission. This post is not about the details of the Tesco dispute (you can read about it here). However, it is timely to take a step back and look at wages that not only Tesco but all retail workers earn. And when you sneak that peak you will find that retail workers in Ireland are some of the poorest paid in the EU-15.
According to Eurostat (the baseline figures are from 2012, brought up to 2014 with the Labour Cost Index), Irish retail workers rank 12th in the EU-15. And these wages are well behind European averages.
- Irish retail workers would need a 20 percent increase to reach the EU-15 average.
But when we compare Ireland with our peer group, the comparison deteriorates dramatically. One peer group are Northern and Central European economies (NCEE). This is the EU-15 figure excluding the poorer Mediterranean countries (though it’s worth noting that Italian retail workers earn more than Irish). In this comparison:
- Irish retail workers would need a 35 percent increase in the hourly average wage.
A second peer group is other Small Open Economies (other SOE). This is a comparison used by the IMF and it refers to economies with small domestic markets and a high reliance on exports, just like Ireland. This category includes Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. In this comparison:
- Irish retail workers would need a 54 percent increase in the hourly average wage.
Some may object to this, claiming that if a company is not profitable, it cannot increase wages. This is true enough. But we are confronted with a problem: the last year we have comparative enterprise data in the retail sector is 2012 – a bottom point in the retail business cycle with the economy still mired in a domestic demand sector. Although profits per employed was about 15 percent below the EU-15, profits in the foreign-owned sector (such as Tesco) was the highest in the EU-15. So even with the consumer economy at rock bottom, a substantial part of the retail sector was doing ok.