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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 9 Feb 2022

Vol. 1017 No. 6

National Minimum Wage: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes:

— the latest increase of the minimum wage from €10.20 to €10.50 an hour is a 2.9 per cent increase, and is well below the rate of inflation representing a de facto pay cut for the lowest paid workers in the State;

— the minimum wage rate for those aged under 20 and those on training programmes is less than the main rate, therefore a lower increase, and represents flagrant discrimination against young people;

— that the State has a high level of low pay with approximately 380,000 workers earning below the official definition of low pay – two-thirds the median wage – which represents 1 in 5 workers;

— that 22.6 per cent of women are in low paid work and 33.9 per cent of those aged under 30 are low paid and Ireland ranks 8th in the European Union for levels of low pay;

— that pay for workers in the public and private sectors has generally not kept pace with inflation, representing a substantial erosion in wages throughout the economy;

— that wages have stagnated in the last decade, and according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (at 2020 constant prices) the average annual wages in Ireland increased by just €191 between 2010 and 2020, a 0.38 per cent increase, while in the same period the Gross National Income increased by 61.2 per cent according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and according to the OECD unit labour costs in Ireland have dropped by 6 per cent in the period 2015 to 2020 – all this points to a substantial shift in wealth from labour to capital in the last period;

— that the latest flash figures from Eurostat show the annual rate of inflation in the State is now at 5 per cent according to the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices, and the CSO found annual inflation to be at 5.5 per cent in December, the highest rate since 2001;

— that key drivers of inflation are energy costs and increases in the cost of other basic and essential commodities;

— that this increased rate of inflation has been sustained for a period of time and more economists are pointing to this being a longer-term feature; and

— that inflation is eroding the pay of workers and disproportionately impacts workers on low- and middle-incomes who spend a higher proportion of their incomes on basic essential commodities, and the official rates of inflation, therefore, are not fully reflecting the impact on low- and middle-income workers;

acknowledges that:

— the living wage in Ireland is calculated at €12.90 per hour, a figure that reflects the minimum needed for individuals working full-time to cover their needs;

— many trade unionists and labour movement activists point to €15 an hour being needed to cover a decent standard of living, especially in the context of high rent and housing costs, energy costs, childcare costs and the stagnation in wages over a decade;

— in Germany, workers have won a 8.8 per cent increase to the minimum wage this year, and have won commitments to further increases which would represent a 25 per cent increase from €9.60 to €12 an hour;

— the minimum wage acts as a floor in wages in the economy, and an increase in the minimum wage would have a positive knock-on effect throughout the economy and serve to increase wages generally for all workers; and

— workers in other states have won beyond inflation pay rises through taking industrial action or organising for industrial action; and

calls on the Government to:

— immediately initiate an emergency review of the national minimum wage;

— ensure that this review sees an increase in the minimum wage, and at a minimum the increase is adjusted to fully compensate for the erosion in buying power and for the increased burden that inflation places on the low paid;

— ensure this review is concluded and implemented by the 1st May, 2022; and

— introduce a system whereby the minimum wage and wages generally are index linked so wages at a minimum cover any increases in the real cost of living.

There is breaking news this morning. According to daft.ie, the rent increases for quarter 4 of last year, when annualised, come in at more than 10%. In some parts of the country, the increase is more than 20%. This underlines the need for a national rent freeze, at the minimum, if not for legislation to actually cut rent. It also raises the need to raise the wages of working people. The Government, which refuses to legislate for even a national rent freeze, is the same Government that has, in effect, cut the wages of the lowest paid workers in the State. The national minimum wage increased by 2.9% on 1 January, a time when inflation stood at 5.5%. The Government has cut the wages of the lowest paid workers in the State.

We are bringing forward the motion for two key reasons. The first is the cost-of-living crisis and how it impacts the low paid. How in the hell is someone meant to survive on €10.50 an hour in the current climate? As it was put to me at the weekend, this is not a cost-of-living crisis; this is a cost-of-survival crisis. We are also bringing forward the motion to benefit all workers. We believe that all workers deserve and need a pay rise at this time. If the minimum wage is the floor below which wages are not meant to fall, our thinking is that if the floor is raised, there will be the knock-on effect of an upward pressure on the wages of all workers. We are unashamedly introducing the motion for those reasons.

Who are the minimum wage and low-paid workers in this country? Minimum wage workers are not a tiny minority of the workforce. They comprise nearly 10% of the workforce now. They are not, in the main, part-time workers or workers who do a bit of work for a few bob. Some 68% of minimum wage workers now work full time. It is an educated workforce. Nearly 50% of workers on minimum wage have been to third level. That is the highest percentage of any country in the EU. It is a higher percentage than in the UK.

Of course, many workers earn just above the minimum wage. The median wage in the State, which is two thirds of the average, stands at €11.86 an hour. Some 50% of hospitality workers are at or below that level. Some 33% of retail workers are at or below that level, as are 15% of healthcare workers. Those are the very workers who got this country through the pandemic and showed the value of their work to society but who now find their wages do not match that value whatsoever. These are disproportionately women workers and young workers. Some 22.7% of women workers are low paid. Some 33.9% of young workers are low paid. In both those cases, the figures are above the European average. They are being hit hard. Electricity bills are up by €800 this year. The cost of groceries has increased by €800 annually. The cost of petrol is up by €500 this year. Between those three items alone, before one even gets into the cost of rent, prices have increased by €2,000. Someone earning €20,000, €21,000, €22,000 or €23,000 has, in effect, had 10% knocked off their purchasing power. If the official rate of inflation is 5% or 5.5%, what is it for the low paid who have no option but to buy these necessities even though prices are increasing at a rapid rate? The real rate of inflation for the low paid is double or triple the official rate.

The Taoiseach stood up in the Dáil yesterday and gave us the usual line. He said Ireland pays the second highest national minimum wage in the European Union. Let us look a little closer at that. When purchasing power and can buy for your buck are taken into account, Ireland is not in second, third or fourth place. It is considerably further down the list in seventh, and heading downward. Last year, the minimum wage was raised by 1% whereas the EU average was four times that. This year, the minimum wage will increase by less than 3%. The EU average is more than double that at 6%. In fact, in Germany the minimum wage is currently undergoing a staggered increase of 25%.

This is not just about the low paid. If we raise the floor, there will be knock-on increases and we want to see that. The Taoiseach said yesterday that he is okay with wage rises provided they are linked to productivity. I would like to ask the him a question but for now I will ask it of the Minister of State. Why, between 2010 and 2020, did the Minister of State and his colleagues from Fine Gael stand over big increases in productivity without wage rises but are now insisting that wage rises can only happen if there are increases in productivity? Between 2010 and 2020, hourly pay went up by 15.44% and GNI went up by 61.2%. Annual wages increased by less than 0.5%. The key figure with regard to productivity is unit labour cost which, between 2015 and 2020, was down by 6% and reached a record low in quarter 3 of 2020. There is one law for the bosses and another for the workers. If productivity increases without wage increases, that is fine, but there can be no wage increases without productivity increases. What hypocrisy. It really shows where Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael stand when it comes to class politics.

The Taoiseach also raised the prospect of a wage price spiral. He gave us the example of the 1970s and in doing so recycled an old Thatcherite myth. Which country has had perhaps the biggest debate about minimum wages in the past five years? It is the United States, which introduced minimum wages citywide, statewide and so on. For every $1 increase in the wage of a worker in McDonalds, there was a 2 cent increase in the cost of a burger. A rise in wages cuts profits and does not automatically lead to a rise in prices if the bosses, who can afford to do so, absorb the increase.

Mr. Duncan Graham of Retail Excellence Ireland was on the radio this morning. It is a pity there is not more excellence in the wages paid by some of the people who operate alongside, and with, Retail Excellence Ireland. The most recently recorded annual profits for Musgraves, which operates Centra and SuperValu, were €98 million. Can they not afford to pay workers €15 an hour? If there are smaller employers who say they cannot afford it, we ask them to open their books and prove it. If they cannot, they should be topped up from a levy paid by the bigger employers who can well afford such an increase.

It seems that the Government has not tabled an amendment to the motion. The Minister of State might clarify whether the Government is opposing the motion or is using a cynical tactic it has often used to deal with motions in recent times, that is, allowing the motion to go thorough and then quietly ignoring it. I call on the Government to own its position on this issue. If the Government is for the motion, it should vote for it and implement it. If it is against, the Government should have the guts to vote against it. There should be no more of the cynical tactics we have seen in recent weeks.

Sinn Féin and Labour have proposed amendments to the motion that look for a timeframe for the implementation of a living wage rate of €12.90 per hpur. That amount would represent a step forward for low-paid workers. We support both amendments. We would make the point that the €12.90 living wage report was issued before the current wave of inflation and even in that report, the author made the point that it would be very difficult for a worker living in Dublin to pay rent on that wage. It is a bit out of date and I think €15 is now the key figure. That said, €12.90 would represent a step forward and we will support that proposal.

We have no faith in the Government on this issue. We will exert pressure on the Government but workers must exert their own pressure. In the UK, the Unite trade union has won cost-of-living pay increases or better in 25 workplaces by taking industrial action or threatening to take industrial action. That is a good, positive example and one that needs to be followed by workers in this country.

I thank Deputy Barry for bringing the motion forward. At the centre of this debate is one unassailable fact, which is not debatable: the national minimum wage in this country is a poverty wage. A full-time worker earning the minimum wage gets only €21,000 a year. That is €5,000 a year less than the independently assessed minimum income needed for an acceptable standard of living for an individual without children. That is an unassailable fact the Government stands over, which results in minimum wage workers, even those without children, living in poverty. Does the Government think it is acceptable in 21st-century Ireland, a country with immense wealth and some of the most productive workers in the world, that a full-time job is not enough to lift someone out of poverty? Yesterday, in response to questions on this issue, the Taoiseach said that the answer to poverty and deprivation is work, but these people are working. They are not unemployed; they are working hard and they are working full time, but they are in poverty. A worker works a full week and is not able to pay the bills. The essence of this point is that it is time to lift the minimum wage to a real living wage for all. No worker should be left in poverty and that means fighting for a €15 an hour minimum wage.

In this debate, there will be, as there are in public, many myths and half ideas spun about minimum wage workers. These are stories told to try to justify the payment of poverty wages. To listen to those who oppose increases in the minimum wage, anyone would have the impression that minimum wage workers are all young, part-time workers earning a little pocket money for the weekend. That would not justify paying poverty wages, but it is not even true. Two thirds of those on the minimum wage are full-time workers with 90% in permanent positions. We have the most educated minimum wage workers in Europe. These are hard-working people doing essential work and trying to make a living. They deserve a decent raise.

The German Government, under pressure, has just announced that it will increase the minimum wage to €12 an hour this year. If the Government will not agree with our demand for €15 an hour, will it at least agree to €12 an hour, which would be at about the level of the real increase in inflation for those who are on low incomes? One in four workers in Ireland earn less than €12 an hour. That includes significant numbers of workers in childcare, retail and hospitality, precisely those people who were clapped by the Government over the past two years. They do not want applause; they want respect and a decent wage. In the US, the Fight for $15 campaign won the phasing in of a $15 minimum wage in a number of different states. We need a similar movement here to fight for a €15 an hour minimum wage.

When this is discussed, many Deputies baulk at the idea of €15 an hour. They suggest it is an unreasonably high figure, but the reality is €15 an hour amounts to €2,500 a month or €30,000 a year for a full-time worker. Ireland is a wealthy country. There is no reason a full-time worker should earn less than €30,000. Let us consider rental rates. A one-bedroom apartment in Dublin is €1,500 a month. How could anyone be expected to live a decent life and raise a family on less than €2,500 a month? The Taoiseach, who presumably opposes a €15 an hour minimum wage, earns €215,000 a year, while a minimum wage worker earns 10% of that or €21,000. That is simply not right. How can earning wages ten times those of an ordinary worker be justified? Does the Taoiseach and the Government think that is fair? For example, Mr. Paul Reid, head of the HSE, is earning 20 times the wage of a minimum wage cleaner. We need to raise the wages of the low-paid and cut them for the tiny few at the very top.

Rents continue to go through the roof. According to the latest daft.ie rental price report, in south County Dublin, for example, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is now €1,549 and that for a three-bedroom house is €2,290. Rents are going up by 5% or 10% throughout the country and energy bills went up by 40% or more, yet the minimum wage went up by less than 3%. That is a cut in real income for the low paid in this country. While Deputies received pay rise after pay rise, and one senior official recently received an €81,000 raise, low-paid workers are expected to make do with less. If Deputies' wages were linked to the minimum wage, we would have seen a proper increase a long time ago.

This also takes place in the context of the debate on the cost-of-living crisis. It should be recalled that when we raised this issue last year the Government told us that the price hikes were transitory. In October, in our first motion about this crisis in this House, and again in December, we warned that anything less than direct State intervention, using powers available to the Government, would not address the crippling rise in energy and heating costs. The Government then announced the tiny subsidy of €100 for electricity consumers. It is trying desperately to distance itself from the comments of the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Sean Fleming, about shopping around, but the truth is that is the Government programme. Members should read the amendment that was tabled to gut our motion on the energy prices crisis. The bottom line point of the Government is that the market will provide. Again and again, in answer to parliamentary questions and in answers in the House, the Government has put forward the idea that people need to go and shop around. The reality is the Government is ideologically opposed to imposing regulation on market forces or taking things out of the control of the market and into public ownership. It pretends that nothing can be done and this is a global rise in inflation. What is hidden under that is the fact of profits. Inflation is, to a substantial degree, profit-driven in this country. It is not an automatic fact of life that big business just keeps the big profits it is making. Year in and year out, the costs go up for big business, but it just passes those costs on and ordinary people's lives get harder. The question of who pays the price for inflation is an active political and class struggle question.

The determination of big business and of the Government is that workers pay the price for inflation, both through declining wages in real terms and increased prices. All the indications so far, however, from the balance sheets coming out of big business are that it is not hurting at all. Shell and BP announced last week that they are on track to make £40 billion in profits this year. ESB announced a significant increase in profits last year, as did Energia. We do not accept that. We say that can be cut into by, on the one hand, price controls, which the Government has the power to implement but refuses to, and by workers fighting for a pay increase.

Throughout the country, workers are demanding pay rises and they are right to do so. If workers do not organise and speak up, they will lose out. When they do fight back, they have power - extra power in the current economic situation - and they can win real improvements. Before Christmas, for example, Dunnes Stores workers campaigned for and won a 10% increase. That should be an inspiration to other workers to do the same, to talk to their fellow workers, to link in with their union, to push for a meeting of all staff to discuss a pay claim and to lodge a pay claim. The same goes for public sector workers. They should organise now to demand an emergency pay increase that goes beyond the rate of inflation. For us, raising the minimum wage is a part of this. It not only helps the very low paid out of poverty, but raising the wage floor helps to raise the wages of all workers. It also helps to strengthen the negotiating power of other workers who are already above the rate of the minimum wage.

I will make a final point that we also need to end age discrimination when it comes to the national minimum wage in this country. It is blatant discrimination that people under the age of 20 are only entitled to earn less than the minimum wage. They are doing the same work and should be paid the same for it.

I thank Solidarity-People Before Profit for tabling this motion.

The Government notes the motion on the minimum wage. It expresses concerns with rising inflation and with the welfare of the low paid. These are two concerns that this Government shares. However, the motion ignores what this Government has done and is doing to address issues around the cost of living and to ensure rising incomes and rising living standards for the low paid.

First, regarding the problems of inflation and cost of living increases, I understand the pressures people are feeling. The annual rate of consumer price inflation, as measured by the EU's harmonised index of consumer prices has picked up sharply in recent months, reaching a multi-decade high of 5.7% in December. The Government recognises that those on lower incomes are being disproportionately affected but it should be noted that the recent rise in inflation is primarily the result of global factors and consequently, largely beyond the reach of Government policy. These inflationary pressures are partly the result of temporary factors related to the pandemic that are expected to fade over time. We need to be aware of the risk of higher inflation expectations feeding through to a wage-price spiral. This risk to the inflation outlook increases the longer this temporary period of high inflation lasts.

The Government has pursued a large range of measures to protect households from the rising cost of living. Budget 2022 contained a personal income tax package worth €520 million and a social welfare package of more than €550 million. The fuel allowance was increased by €5 per week to compensate lower-income households for the additional energy costs they are likely to incur. There were also increases in the allocation to early learning and care and school-age childcare to ensure childcare prices do not rise. The Government has also approved an electricity costs emergency benefit scheme, with payment of up to €100 to be made this year to an estimated 2.1 million electricity account holders. In addition to the actions taken, colleagues across government along with their officials have been tasked with developing proposals for a package to help families with the cost of living. The Government will finalise this package very shortly.

Regarding the income and living standards of the low paid, what the Government has done, and is doing, to address these issue should be acknowledged. Central to this have been increases to the minimum wage. Since its establishment in 2015, the Low Pay Commission has been responsible for making annual recommendations to the Government on the appropriate rate of the national minimum wage. The national minimum wage seeks to find a balance between a fair and sustainable rate for low paid workers and one that will not have significant negative consequences for employers and competitiveness. As it is legally enforceable, it provides protection for workers.

The Low Pay Commission comprises an equal number of employer and employee representatives and independent members who help to provide a balanced view when determining an appropriate rate for the national minimum wage. In addition, the establishing legislation requires that the commission gives consideration to a range of issues when arriving at a recommendation for the appropriate national minimum wage. These issues include the cost of living, competitiveness and the likely effect of any proposed recommendation on future levels of employment. When considering increases in the national minimum wage during a period of inflation the Government must be conscious of the need to avoid second round effects or a wage-price spiral.

The Low Pay Commission is legislatively required to provide a recommendation to the Minister by the third week in July. Any recommended change in the minimum wage is then normally announced as part of the budget in October, coming into force the following January. The commission has made six recommendations on the national minimum wage since it was established and the Government has accepted each of these recommendations. The national minimum wage increased from €8.65 per hour to €10.50 per hour between 2016 and 2022, in line with the recommendations of the commission. The Government is supportive of the commission and the work it has carried out since its foundation and respects its independence.

The Government is committed to protecting low paid workers, many of whom have continued to work in sectors providing important services throughout the pandemic. It is estimated that at least 135,000 people saw an increase in their wages due to the latest increase in the minimum wage in January, with many others on slightly higher pay levels also getting a knock-on increase. Today Ireland has one of the highest minimum wages in the EU. Recently released data from EUROSTAT shows that as of 1 January 2022, 21 of the 27 EU member states have national minimum wages. In terms of gross monthly rates, Ireland has the second highest national minimum wage of these 21 member states. When adjusted for purchasing power standards, PPS, Ireland ranks sixth out of 21. The share of workers on the minimum wages in Ireland has fallen consistently since the establishment of the Low Pay Commission. The share of workers on the minimum wage or less as a percentage of the total labour force has reduced from 9.3% in quarter four of 2016 to 6.8% in the fourth quarter of 2020. It should also be noted that wages in Ireland are among the highest in the EU. Median gross earnings in Ireland were €17.97 an hour in 2018, which is 36% above the EU-27 average of €13.18.

Ireland's personal taxation regime is viewed as being one of the most progressive in terms of income redistribution in both the EU and the OECD. It is characterised by a large number of earners who are exempt from income tax, followed by a relatively steep climb from entry to the taxation net at an annual wage of circa €17,000 to entry to the top rate of taxation at earnings of €36,800, which is below the national average wage of €38,846. The tax strategy group's paper for 2021 shows that 989,000 earners or 36% of the total are exempt from income tax. This includes people on the national minimum wage and on low pay.

Ireland has a well established system for setting the minimum wage based on the Low Pay Commission and this system works well. Since its establishment, the commission has delivered six consecutive annual increases in the minimum wage and the next recommendation on the national minimum wage is due in July of this year. As well as considering the national minimum wage, the commission is also currently tasked with examining the issues of a living wage and a universal basic income pilot scheme. Reports from the commission on both of these matters are expected within the first half of this year. The Government respects the commission and its independence. It supports the work the commission is currently doing on the living wage, a universal basic income and preparing its July recommendations. I expect, as with all commission recommendations, that the Government will indicate its planned approach following receipt of those recommendations.

The Government does not have the guts to stand up publicly and argue with us or oppose what we asking for here, which is an emergency review of the minimum wage. In our view, there is a need to increase it to, as an absolute minimum, €15 per hour. The Government is going to accept our motion but with absolutely no intention of acting on it. The public out there should know that this is the cynical way in which politics operates in here and the way this Government behaves. The Government is spineless. Behind the scenes it works to maintain the status quo and effectively ignore the really desperate situation that working people are facing at the moment as a result of the Government's own failures.

The only defence the Government has offered is that inflation is not its fault. It is a global phenomenon and there is a not a lot it can do. It can take some measures but it is not really its fault. However, we need to seriously challenge that narrative. This Government, along with European and other governments, has championed the privatisation and deregulation of energy markets over the past 20 years and is showing no intention of rolling back on that; in fact, quite the opposite. When People Before Profit tabled a motion in October warning about the escalating energy crisis and asking for price controls, the Government reiterated its commitment to so-called competitive markets in energy. When Deputy Fleming said what he said the other day, it was not some maverick comment about shopping around; it was Government policy.

It has been Government policy, and that of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, for 20 years. Since the removal of the not-for-profit mandate of the ESB and the privatisation of Bord Gáis, energy prices have gone through the roof and we are paying the bitter price for that now. That is the truth. That is part of an international phenomena, but the Government championed it and it is still committed to it. That is set out in black and white in the speeches of Ministers including, as recently as this week, in the speech of the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, where he again referred to the competitive market. I am amazed that nobody in the media is questioning this. There is no debate about the link between the deregulation and privatisation of energy supply and the ability of energy companies to ratchet up the cost of energy to stratospheric levels that are literally impoverishing people. Between 1,500 and 2,500 vulnerable people will die unnecessarily this winter because they cannot afford to heat their homes. Excess winter mortality is worse in this country than in most other countries in Europe.

People need to know that prior to the deregulation and privatisation of energy supply in this country, energy costs were lower in Ireland by a significant margin than they were in the rest of Europe. Today, they are higher. They are, on average, between 15% and 20% higher than in the rest of Europe. That is the fault of Government. Let it be clear, that is the fault of Government. Why are energy prices higher in Ireland? It is because the Government allows the energy companies to profiteer and price gouge. We will continue to shout from the rooftops until it penetrates into the debate that the companies that are impoverishing people with these massive increases in energy prices are making massive profits. On a global scale, it is staggering. Last year, Shell and BP made €40 billion in profits, of which Shell's share was €19.3 billion. The previous year, their profits amounted to €4.8 billion. It is incredible. Their profits have quadrupled in one year. The same is happening in Ireland. Energia's profits were up 46% last year and 45% the previous year. The ESB made €616 million profit in 2020, and it is set to be more than €700 million for 2021. What is being taken out of the pockets of working people, pensioners and the vulnerable is going into the pockets of other groups of people who get paid dividends. The rich are making money out of the misery of the poor.

This is going on in the housing sector as well. Last year, rents rose by, on average, 10%. The previous year, they increased by 7%. In total, rents have risen by about 68% over the past decade. Similarly, there have been increases in the rental income of landlords, which increased by 16% in the past two years. They are creaming it at the expense of working people and the Government is facilitating it.

Against that background, we say it is time for workers to fight back. They cannot take this lying down. It is vital the minimum wage is increased to €15 per hour, which, by the way, would still not allow a person to meet the cost of rent in Dublin. The existing minimum wage level is shocking. Do Members opposite get it? In my area, rents are, on average, €2,200 per month. A person would need a €26,000 after-tax income per annum just to pay the rent and he or she would be paying 100% of it. A person on the minimum wage would not have that income. That person would be paying about 120% of his or her income to pay the average rent in my area. Across Dublin, the cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment is €1,500 per month. In my area, the cost for a one-bedroom apartment is €1,900 per month. It is beyond shocking.

The Government will not do anything about that on the basis that landlords have the right to make profits. The Government could do something about it, as other countries have done. Rent controls set rents. The Government could set a charge of a specific amount per square metre of rental property. That is done in other countries. It is the only way this issue can be dealt with. A rent freeze at current levels will not suffice. We need to set rents. That is done in other countries and there is no reason it cannot be done here.

There is simply no justification for vulture funds, landlords or anybody else setting rents at the current levels. They are guaranteed and, as we speak, they are escalating the homelessness crisis again. There was a brief respite from homelessness because the Government had to introduce an eviction ban, which previously it said could not be done. The ban was introduced for a brief period during Covid and homelessness decreased. The Government has since lifted the eviction ban and homelessness is on the increase again. I am dealing with three families who are working and in homeless accommodation. They were recently told by the local authority that they have to leave their accommodation because their income has risen above the income threshold. That is the reward they get for working. They are being told to leave the homeless accommodation when they have no chance of getting any other accommodation in the area. People being evicted into homelessness is reaching obscene levels.

We have given up on this Government. In this motion, we are calling on workers to get out and fight. The landlords and the big business people are exploiting the misery and suffering of people. It is time for workers to stand up and make pay claims. Like the Dunnes Stores workers, they need to insist on at least a 10% increase and that, at an absolute minimum, nobody should have to work for less than €15 per hour. On top of that, we want price controls on energy and rent controls to bring rents to affordable levels. This Government has no interest in addressing the root causes of this inflationary spiral because it is in reality collaborating with the corporate interests that are benefiting from the suffering people are having inflicted on them.

I commend the motion to the House.

I move amendment No. 1:

To insert the following after "real cost of living":

"— produce a roadmap to deliver a living wage within a strict timeframe.".

I am sharing time with colleagues. I thank the Deputies who brought this motion to the floor of the Dáil this morning. It is very important. Before I address the substance of the motion, I want to make clear that the best defence a worker has against the right-wing policies of this Government is not just to join a trade union but to be active in that trade union and to demand his or her fair share of the profits this Government is so accommodating of employers to make.

I have come here from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which is debating the Government's remote working legislation. It sets out 13 reasons an employer may refuse a worker the right to work from home. The Tánaiste has stated he is bringing forward five pieces of workers' rights legislation. I am not sure if he has read all of that legislation or if he understands the import, but they most definitely are not workers' rights when codified within the law are 13 reasons - 13 spurious reasons - an employer may refuse a worker the right to work from home or remotely. We all know the benefits of that. The Government has spoken about that, but when push comes to shove we know whose side it is on. It is invariably on the side of employers. It is never on the side of workers.

At the commencement of the pandemic, the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, like me, will have seen the low-pay, precarious work that was being exposed. Hundreds of thousands of people were working in appalling conditions and many of them had been laid off. When we looked at the impact on the tax take, we found these workers were underemployed and underpaid. Such workers are in precarious work and some of them have no hope of meeting the cost of rent and certainly no hope of buying a house to shore them up against the damage being done by this Government to the property and housing markets.

The Minister of State said in his remarks that the Government is seeking to avoid a wage spiral.

Imagine that. Imagine wages just got out of control and people could live on what they were earning like we do in this House. Imagine workers could simply live on the wages they were earning. However, the Government's concern is about a wage spiral.

I referred to a wage inflation spiral. Quote directly.

Was the Government not a bit concerned when it was giving an €81,000 pay hike to Robert Watt of the potential for a knock-on consequential claim out of that? Was it happy it could ring-fence it and just do it for one person? The Government was not one bit concerned about the impact that was going to have on wages. In fact, unfettered, the man seems to be granted endless pay rises. We know he has had at least three in the past while. They do not come from nothing as they are granted by the Government. Out of one side of its mouth the Government says there is plenty of money for those to whom it chooses to give it and out of the other side it preaches wage restraint to low-income workers. With the cost of living going the way it is, wage restraint means workers in this State, after 40 hours of work, are making the choice between heating their homes or paying for their groceries. The Government's wage restraint and the fact it is preaching that to workers is causing workers to be in impoverished and intolerable circumstances because of inflation. Not alone does the Government want them to work to the age of 67, 68, 69 or 80 years - where it is going to end we do not know - but after 40 hours of work, on their feet in many instances, the Government has absolutely no problem with workers getting poverty wages for it.

This motion calls for an emergency review of the minimum wage. For the Government to accept that, it would have to admit there was an emergency. The evidence of it is all around us but I refer to the remarks made by a Minister of State from the present Minister of State's own party. I hasten to add when that party's back was to the wall, or when it believed it was, it cut the minimum wage and did it nice and quickly and was not worried about the impact on the broader economy then. It did not create a single job. It merely made working people poorer. From that same party comes the call to shop around. Imagine that. People will be shopping around for a new Government because they cannot take much more of this. That the Minister of State would come in here and preach wage restraint to people who cannot afford to heat their own homes is shocking.

I urge Members to support the Sinn Féin amendment. We need to move towards a living wage. The Government's term of office is nearly half over and we do not yet have any concrete moves on that.

I am happy to support this motion and thank Deputy Barry for bringing it forward.

Let us make one thing clear, namely, that for anybody who looks and applies for a job, the minimum wage is now the starting wage for most companies. We have one of the highest rates of low pay in the developed world, with 20% of our workers in low-paid jobs and 50% of women currently earning €20,000 or less. That needs to be addressed. A full-time worker on the minimum wage only earns €1,774 before tax and USC. Take away rent, mortgage, food, shopping, massively increased energy costs, childminding etc. and what does that leave people at the end of the week or month? It means those on a living wage have virtually nothing left to alleviate the daily worries of feeding themselves or their family, paying their rent or heating their house. To top it off, we now have the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Fleming, arrogantly stating people just have to shop around. I am glad he has now realised how insulting that was, but if his apology is to mean anything, then this Government must now start not only talking about increasing the minimum wage but looking seriously at a living wage for all. The living wage technical group estimates workers need at least €12.90 per hour to achieve even the minimum acceptable standard of living. That is all people are asking for, namely, a fair society where they can work, live and plan for the future.

Like many motions brought to this House by the Opposition, this is about fairness. I urge the Government to support it but I will not ask those on the minimum wage to hold their breath while they wait for it to do so.

I regularly encounter people who are working, and working hard, yet it is not paying off for them. They are still facing the difficulties we are becoming too familiar with these days, such as difficulties in meeting their housing payments each month, paying insurance costs to get them to and from work, paying for childcare and the list goes on. However, an increasing problem is how low wages, which have always made it difficult to pay for the essentials, are now being totally outpaced by the rising cost of living. While this problem has become a prominent issue, the Government at every turn tries to wash its hands of it. It is something Sinn Féin has been consistently pointing out and trying to get the Government to address. In the budget, the minimum wage was increased from €10.20 to €10.50 or 2.9%. In October, the same month as budget 2022 was announced, the consumer price index jumped to an annual rate of 5.1%, which was the highest rate since 2007. I ask the Minister of State how these figures compare. In the year to December it rose a further 5.5%. Given how the increase in the minimum wage is totally out of step with the rising cost of living, no amount of shopping around will help the many workers who are struggling to make ends meet and making very difficult choices between staying warm and putting food on the table.

Ireland needs a living wage, which is something Sinn Féin has done a considerable amount of work on. A living wage is the minimum income necessary for a single adult in full-time employment to meet his or her basic needs and afford an acceptable standard of living. That is why Sinn Féin has proposed an amendment to this motion that urges the Government to produce a roadmap to delivering a living wage within a strict timeframe. In the past, the Government has paid lip service to calls for a living wage but has done nothing to progress it. Instead, it has created a housing market that is out of reach of the average worker and has overseen a situation in which rents are skyrocketing. Young people are also being failed by this Government, which is happy to see them get paid sub-minimum rates while efforts to address this from the workers' side are hampered by a lack of collective bargaining to allow workers use the power of trade unions to improve pay and conditions.

Before any more Government Members think of advising struggling families to shop around, they need to remember those families have been shopping around for years, which is something the Ministers of State who give this advice from on high do not have to do. These citizens look at all options, unlike the Government, which is out of ideas.

I thank the Solidarity-People Before Profit for putting this motion forward. We in Sinn Féin have consistently called on consecutive Governments to introduce a living wage for workers. A living wage has been outlined as the absolute minimum required for a single person working full time to live with any kind of dignity. In 2019, a Sinn Féin motion calling for a living wage was passed in this Chamber as recognition for the huge contribution low-paid workers make to the economy, but Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens have refused to implement this. Sinn Féin is again calling on the Government to do more for workers throughout this State. Childcare costs continue to increase and have gone through the roof. Transport costs have gone up. Energy costs have spiralled out of control, and most middle- and low-income workers have no medical card or access to supports such as fuel allowance or the housing assistance payment. The working poor now need relief. The most recent figures on rents show that rents in Laois have gone up by 11.3% in one year. Offaly has seen a 14.6% increase in one year. Has the minimum wage gone up in line with that? No it has not. Have wages across the board gone up? No they have not.

This is a crisis in the cost of living. Last year inflation was up 5.5% while the minimum wage increased by just 2.9%. The living wage technical group has calculated a rate of €12.90 per hour as the absolute minimum required to ensure workers are not living in poverty. We are calling on the Government to produce a roadmap to deliver that living wage within a strict timeframe because this can has been kicked down the road long enough.

It is also vital we address the unequal power relationship that exists between workers and employers. We need to see collective bargaining legislation introduced to give workers a legal right to be represented by a trade union of their choice. This is the only way workers can collectively use the bit of power they have to bargain for better pay and conditions. All Governments have refused to do that. Fianna Fáil trenchantly refused to do it back in the 2000s. Consecutive Governments have failed to introduce this legislation and it must happen now.

The number of billionaires in this State has increased dramatically again this year. Figures that came out in the new year showed that. The shift in power and in money is going to a smaller few the whole time. It is time the ordinary workers, that is, the people who struggle every day to get to work, to pay the high cost for transport, car insurance and everything else, got a break. They need an absolute guarantee of a living wage.

I welcome this motion on the national minimum wage from Solidarity-People Before Profit and add my support to it. This is more than just a discussion on what represents a realistic minimum wage.

It is also a discussion about low pay, poverty and workers and families struggling to make ends meet and living from week to week on the wages they receive. According to data from the OECD, Ireland has a far higher level of low pay than countries of similar economic status. Raising the minimum wage, while raising the level of pay, may still not represent a living wage which is defined as "a wage that provides an employee with sufficient income to achieve a minimum acceptable standard of living". A living wage allows the worker to afford basic essentials such as healthcare, food, clothing, housing, education, energy costs, and so on. Low pay can result in an individual making compromises between putting food on the table, heating the house or going to the doctor. Every week hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country on low pay must figure out how to pay their rent, pay for their utilities, transport, food, clothing, childcare costs and so on.

Low pay has a cost to the economy and society as well by reducing tax revenue and increasing demands for welfare allowances and social protection payments. There are clear costs both to the economy and to the worker with regard to low pay. These costs are further exacerbated when both the cost of living and inflation rise and huge numbers of workers are only a pay cheque away from poverty. Currently, inflation is at its highest in 20 years and the cost of living is spiralling out of control. A proper living wage would significantly address both income inequality and poverty levels. Contract workers and temporary workers are particularly vulnerable groups when it comes to low pay. Figures show that half of all hospitality workers are on low pay, as are significant numbers of cleaners and retail workers. Such employees would benefit greatly from increases to the minimum wage and would significantly improve their living standards. Workers need a greater voice to improve pay and working conditions. There should be better regulation of the exploitative gig economy. There should also be improvements in public services and a real effort made to reduce income inequality. Until such measures are put in place, hundreds of thousands of workers will remain vulnerable and living barely above the poverty line.

I welcome the opportunity to support this motion. The word "crisis" appears to go hand in hand with this Government. We have gone from one crisis to the next and now we have reached a crisis in the cost of living. Some in the Government seem to think the solution is to stop complaining and to shop around. People do shop around, but some cannot do so because of barriers. Those people who are struggling are invariably on low pay and the minimum wage. The reality is that working on the minimum wage puts individuals and families at increased risk of poverty. According to the CSO, approximately 120,000 people earn the minimum wage or less in Ireland. Approximately 110,000 people in Ireland live below the poverty line, despite being in employment. It is easy to forget that every single one of these numbers represents a person, someone struggling to get by, to survive and to provide for themselves and their family.

How does it reflect on us as a society to have such a large number of people living in or on the edge of poverty? What does it say about the coalition Government when it fails to act where it can to improve the standard of living for these workers and their families? The measure of a State is how we support and protect the more vulnerable, yet the Government seems more concerned about protecting vulture funds and big developers rather than ordinary workers. Increasing the minimum wage will give the Government the clearest opportunity to put thousands of workers and their families out of poverty. It would start to give working families the quality of life they deserve. It is not just good for the individuals but also good for the wider community. If the Government fails to act as energy and housing prices continue to spiral out of control, the cost of living will continue to worsen and put thousands of people at risk of poverty because so many are so close to the cliff, looking into that dark abyss. Sinn Féin has outlined measures that would make a difference. I accept there are elements the Government cannot influence or change, but there are many things the Government can do and it needs to do them.

First, I commend People Before Profit on bringing forward this motion on the national minimum wage. Currently, there are more than 380,000 workers earning below the definition of low pay. The recent increase in the cost of living, which was running at 5.5% in December, combined with the introduction of increases in carbon tax, rent increases, and increases in the cost of food, fuel, gas, coal, car insurance, house insurance, and the high cost of childcare, is pushing these 380,000 workers nearer and nearer the poverty line. This is resulting in some of the worst division of inequality in the State since the occupation of our country. The absence of a decent wage causes inequality on so many fronts - education, health and social inclusion - especially to a whole generation of young workers. That is why we have included an amendment to this motion seeking the Government to produce a roadmap to deliver a living wage within a strict timeframe.

A living wage is the minimum income necessary for a single adult in full-time employment to meet his or her basic needs. A living wage should be a matter of right. People are working and contributing to society, and it is their right that they should be able to afford basic needs such as healthy food, safe and secure accommodation and heating, as well as other essentials such as extracurricular activities and being able to provide a full and happy life for their children. Should that not be the goal of any civilised society?

The pandemic shone a bright light on how the bulk of low-paid workers worked tirelessly in shops, retail and supermarkets and delivered goods and services to the nation. These are the workers who literally kept the wheels turning. It is incumbent on us all that we do not allow decent working people to slip further and further away from a decent standard of living. This can be done by introducing a real living wage. This is about embedding a societal change that allows workers to share prosperity and the wealth of the country.

In 2019, Sinn Féin introduced a motion in the Dáil calling on the then Government to recognise the significant contribution low-paid workers make to the Irish economy and to introduce a living wage, with appropriate legal protections for those small or medium-sized enterprises that can show they cannot afford it. This motion was passed by the Dáil and supported by politicians from across the political spectrum. It is vital the Government follows up on its own words "to protect those who are hardest hit". Now is the Government's chance to do just that and to support the motion and the amendment before the House today.

The Labour Party supports this motion. A lot of things come to mind when talking about the national minimum wage. We need to picture how a parent feels who has worked a hard week on the minimum wage and then wonders how he or she can feed and clothe his or her children and keep them warm. There is an element of fear in the motion but there is also an element of humiliation – that people are working so hard but perhaps have to make choices between food or warmth for their children.

This motion is important because we live in a low-wage economy. According to the OECD, 23% of Irish workers are statistically in low pay. It is a massive issue. When Government representatives talk about going back to normal, for many people going back to normal was the grind of working hard to try to provide for their family, but still at the end of the week asking themselves these devastating and humiliating questions as to whether they could feed, clothe and keep their children warm.

The Government has rejected all of the presentations given to it about the cost of living and the reality of Irish life, including the Labour Party motion introduced last week by my colleague Deputy Nash, who also established the Low Pay Commission when the Labour Party was last in government. The Government's argument is that tax cuts are the way to bring down the cost of living. We talk to the Government about the fact that nowhere in Europe do people pay for a GP visit except in Ireland, or must families consider whether they have the money to bring their child to the doctor. People in other European countries do not have those humiliating decisions to make. Other European countries do not have the expectation of a second mortgage payment when it comes to childcare.

When we talk about going to school and back-to-school costs, other countries just do not have the expectation of parents having to put their hands in their pocket every time they get a communication from their school. We have so many things that families are just expected to pay for that the Government thinks can be resolved by a tax cut. We just had a presentation from the Minister of State who told us €520 million was spent on tax cuts that do nothing for the person on the minimum wage. Whenever it is suggested we increase the minimum wage, you can predict that employer representatives will come out and say it would have a devastating effect on the economy and jobs. That has been proven time and again to be an economic lie because they just do not want to pay the workers.

This is connected to what was suggested earlier about trade union recognition. Unfortunately, we do not have the same collective bargaining rights as other European countries enjoy and that is absolutely linked to why we have such an epidemic of low pay in Ireland. Some people do not believe it but 23% of Irish workers are on low pay. Some 40% of workers under 30 years are in insecure work. All the things we ask the Government to do around childcare, school costs, GP care and rent are things it simply will not do. It puts it all in the tax cut bracket which benefits those who do not effectively need any relief compared with people with the humiliating question in their heads at the end of the working week.

The suggestion we would increase the minimum wage to something approaching a living wage is something the Government should be embracing. There is a commitment in the programme for Government to establish a living wage. We are two years into this Government. We were all elected this day two years ago. I know the Government was not founded this day two years ago but nonetheless we are approaching the midway point of this Government and yet there is still no energy or sense of emergency around the low pay epidemic or establishing the rationale to give someone that basic sense of dignity and pride that he or she can be a member of this society, engage in it and interact with others on the basis of a sense of equality and decent living standards and eradicate the humiliating question that person may have at the end of the week.

In our amendment, we suggest the minimum wage be linked to inflation. That is a perfectly reasonable suggestion. We have to grapple with this epidemic. In any other country where so many people are working in low-paid employment and those people are disproportionately women and migrant workers, it would be at the top of the enterprise agenda. Employer organisations should be mortified. They should be embarrassed and ashamed this is allowed to happen. It is absolutely linked to workers in this Republic feeling they do not have the same power when they are members of a trade union as other workers would have across the EU or the world because the collective bargaining rights in Ireland are not strong enough.

What do we do if we give people enough money to survive the week? They have a different sense of themselves, their future and of the country and the community in which they live. They have a different sense of vision and positivity to hand to their children. They can say to their children that the country, the State, the Government and their employer has their back and that everyone effectively believes they have a right to live through their week, to work hard but be in a position to pay their bills and not have the heartbreaking flash across their brain when they are at home at night, looking at their children asleep, wondering if they can feed and clothe them and keep them warm. A living wage is the least we can do so that our citizens can afford to live.

Low pay is not a recent problem. It has been an issue for decades. It is a feature, unfortunately, of the Irish economy. We have the highest levels of low pay in the EU. It has a real impact on people's lives but it is having an especially big impact now as prices are rising so dramatically.

This is not something that just arose as a consequence of the pandemic. Front-line workers during the pandemic were people who went into work, gowned up and put themselves at risk in hospitals, nursing homes etc., but people also realised that so too were shop workers, the people who drove the buses and trams, and the ancillary workers. They were the people who cleaned the hospitals, for instance. There were sectors people did not realise were vital in just keeping things afloat. Many of those include people who are on low pay. Then there are the areas where we have creativity, fun and joy in our lives such as entertainment, arts and hospitality, where there are very high levels of low pay. There is now a real issue in recruiting and retaining staff. People have to be able to work in an environment they want to work in but also to be able to afford to live. People have found other types of employment directly as a consequence of the lack of available work in those sectors and it is increasingly difficult to get them back. Much of that relates to low pay.

It is not only bad for the individual to struggle constantly but also bad for the economy and society. We are all impacted by this. Low pay results in a lower tax take and means higher need for supports such as housing assistance payment, medical cards and so on. Low pay has a wider impact and it is in all our interests that we get to grips with the problem. The Spirit Level was a book which measured this. Countries with greater levels of equality, and we have a lot of inequality here, do better in health, life expectancy and in many other areas. That is another societal gain from where people live in a more equal society. The Government has a role to play in bringing that about. We will support the motion and some of the amendments.

We have to recognise there was an underlying assumption in the budget around the level of inflation. Inflation has exceeded what was expected and therefore there has to be an adjustment. We called for a 60 cent increase to the minimum wage and it was increased by 30 cent. That was before inflation had accelerated. I am not surprised we are being told it is not short term but could be medium term. It is very difficult to judge. However, we need a review of the numbers for the living wage as those will have changed. Nor do we need just one review. It needs to be under constant review. A link to inflation is essential. We must acknowledge that countries that have done better have a system of free collective bargaining and they do not necessarily have to have a minimum wage as a point which people do not fall below.

The bargaining is done for, and sometimes through, particular sectors, and we need to see that here. We need to see a plan for how we will get to a living wage. It cannot just be a case of saying we will do it when we get around to it, without a fixed plan. The national minimum wage is to increase by 2025 from €10.20 to €12.90 an hour. That already looks very tame in comparison with the circumstances in which people find themselves at the moment, with rents, housing assistance top-ups and the increasing cost of heating and food. In an inflationary environment, money just does not stretch as far as it did. There has to be a clear recognition that there is an urgency about this and we need to see timelines for that urgency.

It is in the employer's interest not to have a constant turnover of staff, and retaining staff is at least as important as recruiting them. We will not see stability in certain sectors unless there is an environment where people earn enough to allow them to live in dignity, not just to survive. This low pay issue affects women to a greater degree than men, and that has to be considered especially in the context of sectors that are dominated by women. The Government most definitely has a role to play. We would very much support a right to free collective bargaining. It has been demonstrated in other jurisdictions that it has made a significant difference, so much so that in some cases they do not require a national minimum wage. They also compare favourably with ours as equal societies.

We will support the motion.

I thank People Before Profit-Solidarity for introducing the motion. It is well timed, given the main item we have been discussing in recent weeks has been the increase in the cost of living. Many factors are contributing to the increase but I do not believe that wages in this country, and especially lower ones, are one of them. An argument can be made that an increase in wages will lead to an increase in the inflation rate and in the cost of production, but everybody who is willing and able to work needs the State to give them a commitment that they will have a living wage.

I have come across many people in my constituency who are working for less than the living wage. Every day, they face additional challenges, yet they are still willing and able to work. They do not want to sponge off the State but to work and contribute. Many lower paid workers prevail in industries such as cleaning and security, as was mentioned. When the Covid lockdowns and restrictions were in place, these were front-line workers, who may not have been getting anything more than the minimum wage. They were doing work that was essential and they continue to do it, so we need to support them.

Sometimes people are segregated whereby if they do not have an education or certain skills, their contribution to society is considered lesser than that of those who have received an education. Some people, however, have developed manual skills that are essential in this country. The construction industry is one example where our challenge now is to find and provide enough workers who will lay the bricks, carry out the plastering and electrical works and get the job done. We are finding it difficult to get people to do that in order that we can meet our commitments in the national development plan as well as those regarding housing and so on. It is a significant problem and the minimum wage is part of that. We have an opportunity to say to people who want to work that work pays. When they have spent 40 hours working, they should know they will have enough money in their pockets to look after their families, feed themselves and have some enjoyment in life, rather than it being a constant struggle, day in day out, week in week out, as they count on a Monday morning what is left over from the previous week. Having to live in such a frugal way is unfair and wrong. It is time we reconsidered the minimum wage. Employers need to come to the table and recognise that the workers on their payroll ensure their businesses remain active and economically viable. It is not a huge ask.

We are now emerging from the Covid pandemic, following all the closures that happened in the tourism, hospitality and retail sectors and the struggles they faced. The main challenge now for these sectors relates to getting in staff in order that they can open their hotels and restaurants and serve people in shops and other retail outlets. They cannot get them because people have not been sufficiently incentivised to go to work. That needs to happen in order that the gap between social welfare and working is of such a nature that people can see the benefit of working. Long term, they will contribute. Tax credits are good and will help, but they will not do enough on their own. For those who are exiting social welfare and entering full-time work, there should be a transition arrangement whereby they can retain a large share of their benefits for, perhaps, three to five years until they can find their feet in the industry.

As well as that, we need to return to the fundamental issue. If someone is working for 40 hours a week, he or she needs to have enough money to pay the bills, look after his or her children and home and have a little enjoyment in life. This is an opportunity for the Government - we will all support it in taking this step - to raise the minimum wage as a counter-reaction to the inflation that exists. We must also ensure we are in a position whereby we can say to people that it is worth their while to work. I will now hand over to my colleague Deputy Tóibín.

It is important that as a State, we start to analyse what we are doing to respond to the cost of living. It is interesting that we are having this debate over the wages of people who are on the lowest level of income in the State, and the Government is pouring water on any opportunity to see those incomes rise. That is in stark contrast to the Government's attitude to the likes of Robert Watt, who have experienced increases in their wages of almost €100,000 in a short period. It is amazing that a Minister can pick out of the air an income increase of €100,000 for those in the inner circle of the highest echelons of the public service, yet when it comes to those on the lowest level of income, Ministers push back with regard to any pay rise for them.

I have spoken to citizens throughout the country, including in the constituency in which the Minister of State and I are based, who are facing bills of €700 and €800. Earlier I saw an electricity bill of €1,200 that had been dropped on the doormat of a family home. These families are considering taking out loans to be able to pay for those bills. People do not have that level of money at the ready at home to be able to pay for these bills.

Those bills are skyrocketing at present and the reason they are is in significant part because of the actions of this Government. I have asked the Government to look at having a reduction in VAT. I have spoken to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Taoiseach. Both have told me that they have not even asked the European Union for a derogation with regard to the reduction of VAT. A reduction of VAT would overnight allow for the costs of fuel and energy in people's homes to fall. The Government is to pull another lever, that is, the carbon tax, to add further to the cost of families at home as well.

The Government, basically, is shrugging its shoulders saying it does not have the ability to reduce the cost of living but Ireland has one of the most expensive public services. This is seldom discussed. Public services in this country are extremely expensive. A reduction in the cost of public services would help people at the low and middle-income earning levels the most.

The Government needs to get real about the cost of living. Otherwise it has to accede to increases in the level of pay for people who need it.

We have to get real here. Deputy Damien English, a junior Minister, is present, but we have no interest in the working poor, the small farmer and the so-called "daoine beaga" - I do not mean in stature - or ordinary humble people of Ireland. "Let them eat cake" - if she was here now - is the attitude of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. Globalists is what they are, looking after big global companies to bring in all the technology companies and everything else and screw our own unfortunate people. I said yesterday they will die on the side of the road. They will be starved with the hunger.

Farmers will be forced out of business and forced into poverty because of the fertiliser crisis and everything else. It is shocking the way workers are treated in this country. I am an employer and many of my colleagues are, and we try to have a good relationship with our staff and look after them and nurture them, but big companies have not time at the checkouts due to how quick they are scanning the products in. They are making them like machines. It is all part of the global economy we bought into, with Deputy English's party leader and his friendship with the famous Prime Minister Trudeau, and with all this belief in the G7. To hell with the ordinary people. We commemorate 1916 and we commemorate 1923. They commemorated something else in Dublin Castle two weeks ago. I would not go near the place because they are turning in their graves with the kind of vultures they left behind them, which is what you have turned into, supporting all the big business and everybody else and forgetting about the ordinary people.

Look at the wages, as Deputy Tóibín said, of the HSE and the rise in wages Mr. Watt got to go from one Department to another, and he out in Dubai last week looking at best practice of hospitals. They would not know a hospital from an elephant because they have no experience in the field but they can get a pay rise any time they like.

The unequal divide-and-conquer attitude that they have in government here is shocking, disgraceful and despicable, but it is out of the handbook from all over the world to keep the people down. The Government will get a rude awakening. I have said it before. They are waiting in the long grass. There is a fair bit of long grass this year because we had a very mild winter. It will be well grazed by the time the election is called and the Government will have no place to hide. They can run but they cannot hide. They should hang their heads in shame.

A rise in the minimum wage is a great idea in a perfect world but in a situation where many employers are caught tight, it is not such an ideal thought. Many employers are telling me they cannot afford it and this is something that needs to be factored in here. What will happen is that the employer will pass on the minimum wage increase to the hard-pressed public. The Government, instead, has to lower the tax and USC charge take on minimum wage workers. This will increase the take-home pay for minimum wage workers. This would at least, for once, stop hitting the employer who in some cases is going out of business.

The cost of living is a major crisis for minimum wage earners in this country at present. The struggle they have to make ends meet is shocking. With the cost of living let shamefully spiral out of control by this Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green failed Government it has spent the past week running around. They remind me of calves left out for the first time jumping and gadding as if the crisis was only happening in the past week. This shocking out-of-touch anti-family Government has been told by me and my Independent colleagues of a crisis in the past six months. However, this greedy tax-take fuelled Government by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael - ploughing ahead with this carbon tax supported by so many on this side of the House - has done nothing but crucify those on the minimum wage and lower wage bracket in rural Ireland so that we can have Green pet projects paid for in the capital. This is nothing short of a joke - a joke, I may add, we would love to laugh at if it was not so serious.

This Government has people having to sit up in rural Ireland and ask does it pay them to work at all. They pay childcare, massive car fuel increased charges, and bills. Many employees are working simply at a loss.

The Government has got it in the neck, of course, in the past few weeks. This is why it is after waking up. Themselves and their Green friends are frantically trying to put things right, something they should have done in the past six months. Let me tell the Government that €100 off the electricity bill is an insult to the hardworking people who are struggling to keep going. An immediate halt to the carbon tax is needed here, and other further tax cuts.

I am glad to get the opportunity to speak. I thank Deputy Boyd Barrett for his motion.

Every man and woman, working or even not employed, is under savage pressure and the Government knows the reason for it. The cost of energy, the cost of travelling, the expense of diesel and petrol and home heating oil has gone up. Things are so extreme now. There was one way to deal with it, and that was not to add the carbon tax. The Government has a greater take of tax now from fuel than it had before the worldwide increase in oil prices came on. The Government's tax take is much greater.

Other countries have reduced the amount of tax they are taking. They are not insisting on taking more carbon tax but the Government is held to ransom here. Its hands are tied behind its back by the Greens. They are not allowing it to touch or reduce the cost of energy.

Farmers are paralysed and driven down into the ground with extra costs. It is as if this Government hates the farmer. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine could subsidise fertiliser and he could forego these anti-dumping levies but he will not do that because the Greens will not allow him. All the working class people are suffering then because if the farmers' production costs go up more they have to demand more for their produce. It is a merry-go-round. The Government could have it stopped and have helped a lot, but it has sat idly by. The Government has all these other plans now but there was one way of doing it - forget the carbon tax for now and drop the tax take.

First, I thank People Before Profit-Solidarity for bringing this very important motion before the House.

It is so important. If the Minister of State, Deputy English, does not realise it or if the Government does not realise it, there is a serious crisis going on in our country at present. It is the crisis of the people who are working and who have a job, but who are finding it awfully difficult to live. They really are finding it difficult to live.

That is why last night I nearly went out the window when I saw the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on the television. I will not say he was smiling, but he was grinning. It was very hard to take and I will tell the Minister of State why. The Minister was grinning with delight he was so happy announcing the grants to insulate people's homes. You would say that is laudable and great. Could the Minister of State explain to me and to those who cannot fill the oil tank and who is finding it difficult to pay their ESB where they are supposed to come up with the difference between €55,000 to do the job on their house and €25,000 of a grant? It sounds great that the Government is giving €25,000 of a grant to do €50,000 or €55,000 worth of work, and the Minister was grinning about it that this was great. The Minister was ecstatic. He was out of his mind with delight announcing this. Will the Minister of State explain it to those people who find it so hard to pay for their messages at the end of the week, to pay for childcare, to pay for education, to buy clothes and to run the car? I am talking about people about people who are in work who are finding it so hard at present and I, truthfully, believe that the Government does not realise that. Maybe they are waking up now and just realising it, but it is as if this is a new problem. I think today of people such as the Debenhams workers who were treated so badly and who camped outside in Tralee fighting for what I would call their workers' rights.

People are being wronged. People who are going to work are being wronged and I believe the Government is leaving all those people behind. All the Government is doing is heaping further tax and further tax upon them and hurting them more and more and that is wrong.

I wish to share time with Deputy Joan Collins.

I am in full support of this motion to raise the minimum wage to €15 an hour. It is beyond time.

It is becoming increasingly impossible to live in this country on a minimum wage. We do not need to read the recent shocking inflation report to know this.

We see this and we have seen this in our communities for some time now. The cost of living in Ireland has risen exponentially to the point that people are becoming increasingly squeezed because while the cost of living has skyrocketed the minimum wage has barely moved.

I believe that the minimum wage should be set to match the rate of inflation. I have been particularly struck by the sense of complete hopelessness among young people recently. They are unable to have the same life as the generation before. The cost of living makes it difficult for them to save, own a car or start a family, and entirely impossible for them ever to own their own home, yet their wages do not reflect their increasingly difficult financial situation.

A lot of people in this country are just about getting by and many are struggling so they turn to their Government for answers. What is the response they get? To "stop complaining" and "shop around". I am truly disgusted at how out of touch this Government is with the people who elected them as representatives. It is incredibly insulting, and almost inhumane, to face people who really struggle to make ends meet and tell them they just are not shopping around enough. It is not as if anyone in this House would ever know what it is like to do that in today's world. It was timed perfectly for this motion for the Minister of State to say such a thing. It was not that he misspoke or anything because such views are a trait in the responses to parliamentary questions of all Ministers at this stage. If it were possible for people to better their financial situation by shopping around, why should they have to forgo the odd coffee, brunch or holiday or their Netflix subscription in order to do so? Why should they have to forgo the small things that make life a little bit more enjoyable and bearable just so that they can afford somewhere stable to live? God knows, nobody sitting here today would do so.

As well as that, the Government has once again completely neglected rural Ireland. The idea of shopping around completely ignores people living in rural areas of this country who do not have the option even if they wanted to do so. In my constituency of Donegal, there are many areas that have just one local shop. If one lives in Glencolumbkille, for example, one's nearest supermarket is in Killybegs, which is over 25 km away. In order to shop around, one would have to travel to the next nearest supermarket in Donegal town, which is over 50 km away. That is a round trip of over 100 km, which is a trip that nobody should have to take especially given the astronomical cost of fuel at the moment, which this Government insists on increasing.

Rural Ireland, once again, is suffering the consequences of a negligent and incompetent Government. To raise the minimum wage would go a long way in helping rural Ireland to repopulate and rebuild. It would also significantly help all of those who struggle with the rising cost of living and, shockingly, that includes many of our staff here in the Oireachtas.

It would be completely disingenuous for us all to stand here and discuss the minimum wage without acknowledging the fact that our own assistants get paid a mere €11.75 per hour, and this motion would affect them too. Before Christmas we all came in and sang their praises. We nodded and agreed that they deserved so much better. We are now in February but there still has been no movement on this matter because, once again, we have failed to put our money where our mouth is. The union asks are not complicated so I ask that the Government and HR meet them. I also ask that the minimum wage is raised in order to make life in this country a bit more bearable for the people in need.

I thank People Before Profit-Solidarity for putting this motion on the agenda this morning.

We live in a very unequal society in an extremely unequal world. We have unacceptable rates of poverty. It is estimated that one in four people would be at risk of poverty and deprivation without social transfers. Even with social transfers we have 630,000 people below the poverty line, which includes 165,000 children.

A key factor in the high rate of poverty is low pay. There is a huge disparity in wage rates. Average pay, according to research by Neary is €53,000 a year but three out of every four workers come nowhere near that. The typical pay for 50% of workers is €34,000 a year but one in four people earns just €21,700 a year and that is for a full-time worker in or around the minimum wage.

The concept of a minimum wage is that it is supposed to act as a floor and have the effect of generally raising incomes. That is why the trade union movement fought for its introduction against huge opposition from the usual suspects. The reality is that the minimum wage has become the norm in widespread areas of the economy for workers who work in hospitality, floor cleaners, home helps, people who work in areas of retail and, as has been said, for some of the staff in Dáil Éireann.

Between 25% and 30% of all minimum wage workers in Ireland work in the hospitality sector. As noted in the motion, this particularly affects women and young workers. Many workers in hospitality rely on tips to bring their income up to a level where they can just about make ends meet. We then have the absolute scandal of tip theft by rapacious employers such as those at The Ivy, which is a restaurant that is located down the road from here. It really says something when the Government is forced to consider legislation to stop this practice.

The legislation needs serious scrutiny. It is a weak substitution for the Bill that was proposed by Senator Paul Gavan during the last Dáil. A serious problem with the proposed legislation is its definition of service charges which, as it stands, will provide a loophole for employers.

In terms of the minimum wage, a 30 cent increase in the budget is an insult. It represents a 3% increase, which is well below the rate of inflation, and leaves the minimum wage well below the living wage that is now estimated to be €12.90 an hour. In fact, I fully support the need for €15 an hour to meet the huge increases in the cost of living, which will particularly affect those on low incomes. Such a proposal will be met with outrage and ferocious opposition from employers.

Last summer, there was a huge outcry about the difficulties in recruiting workers when the hospitality sector was partially reopened. It was claimed then that the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, acted as a disincentive for young workers but that whole claim was nonsense. The reality was that labour force survey data for July to September of last year showed that employment was back at the 2019 level. The same people have now called for a relaxation of visas to bring in cheap labour from outside the EU. There is a determination to maintain highly exploited cheap labour as the norm.

The trade unions must back a new campaign for a new minimum wage to act as a floor and not the norm. The minimum wage must be set at a level that generally raises wages and tackles the scourge of low pay. I appeal to every employee and worker to join a union, get active and lodge pay claims in response to the cost of living.

Finally, I wish to quote someone in response to the comment made by the Minister of State, Deputy Sean Fleming, that people should "shop around". Oscar Wilde said:

But to recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less.

I thank People Before Profit-Solidarity for their motion and for this discussion. I recognise that the context in which we are having this discussion concerns the pressure that families and everybody are under at the moment to pay all of their bills due to inflation and increased costs. Some of those reasons are outside of our control as a Government but we are trying to respond with a number of initiatives across various Departments to ease that pressure and make a difference. I think we will all hope and agree that some of the external factors that have caused inflation will ease during this year. That will reduce pressure so that people can again pay some of their bills in different ways and invest for their future as well.

Long term, we believe in the concept that work must always pay and that we support anyone who cannot work for whatever reason. We must ensure that our system, through social protection supports and the Department of Health, in the majority of cases can assist families through difficult times. That does not mean that every family who needs help are found in the system. All of us here try to constantly find ways to beat that system and make sure that people do not get lost in it but get the help and support they need. In general, we will work on that.

While the context and most speeches are about the pressure that people are under, the motion calls for one process to deal with this matter, which is around an emergency review of the national minimum wage. That is something that is constantly under review and the decisions are generally made by July every year. The motion calls on us to ensure that this review sees an increase in the minimum wage and that the increase is adjusted to fully compensate for the erosion in buying power. Also, the motion wants us to ensure that the review is concluded and implemented by 1 May 2022. In general, we make a decision by July but I have outlined what is called for in the motion. It is not all of the other solutions that people have referred to in their speeches and I will focus mainly on the mechanisms of that process.

We have done this since 2015. I recognise that Deputy Nash was the Minister of State at the time but I worked at that time to bring forward legislation on the minimum wage and the Low Pay Commission. A process was set up. That brings balance to the conversation and has resulted in six consecutive pay increases, when it was recommended. Part of today's motion is that we must agree the term and the outcome of the review by the Low Pay Commission, which is not the way it is meant to work under legislation. I accept what the motion seeks to achieve but that defeats the purpose of having a balanced conversation. Most years, employers, employees, companies, workers and unions come together to converse and try to reach an agreement, which has generally been achieved over the last number of years. The Government has always taken on board that advice. I have an issue with that piece of the motion but understand the context of what people seek to achieve. I will not argue over that and we do not oppose the motion.

The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, detailed what we regard as the well-functioning system relating to national the minimum wage, which has secured six consecutive increases over the past six years, making it the second-highest national minimum wage in the EU. Over the past hour, we have heard a lot that would suggest this system is not working; I disagree. The system is working and we have a process to get to where we want to go. We can argue over the different places that we want to get to, but the system generally does work and has brought a fair bit of collegiality among the sectors to be able to implement those wage increases.

The motion calls for the introduction of "a system whereby the minimum wage and wages generally are index linked so wages at a minimum cover any increases in the real cost of living". We should remind ourselves that the standard way of measuring increases in the cost of living is by looking at the consumer price index measure of inflation. Between February 2015, when the Low Pay Commission was established, and July 2021, when the most recent report of the commission was submitted to Government, prices increased by 4.4%. In February 2015, the minimum wage was €8.65 an hour. In July 2021, the commission recommended a minimum wage of €10.50 an hour, which is a 21.4% increase over the same period when there was only a 4.4% increase in prices.

I am not saying that is something to shout about but I want to point out that the process the Deputies are asking for here might not give the return they want because it is linked to inflation, which is high at the moment but is not always high. The Low Pay Commission has gone beyond that rate quite a number of times in the past few years and we need to bear that in mind when trying to tamper with a process that has achieved six consecutive pay increases in recent years. In contrast, if, as the motion seems to suggest, the minimum wage had been indexed to inflation, it would have only increased by 4.4%. It would have only increased from €8.65 to €9.03 an hour, which is not something the party opposite would want, and the minimum wage would be €1.47 lower than it is today. To me, that would be a poor result. The system is working. Of course, we have asked the Low Pay Commission to go further and to examine the overall living wage concept, which we are also trying to achieve.

While the Members opposite are right that the increase in inflation in the last six months has reduced the impact of the increase in the minimum wage introduced this year, as explained by the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, these recent inflationary pressures are partly the result of temporary factors related to the pandemic, as well as energy costs, and they are expected to fade over time as things settle down. We recognise the pressures in the system because of Brexit and Covid. Therefore, if, as anticipated, inflation in future years is lower than in the past few months, tying the minimum wage to inflation would result in the minimum wage moving to a lower development path, not higher. I doubt that is what the Deputies want to achieve but we can look at that part of the motion again.

Further, it should be noted that since the establishment of the Low Pay Commission, not only has the minimum wage increased far faster than inflation, the share of workers on the minimum wage in Ireland has also fallen consistently. The share of workers on the minimum wage or less as a percentage of the total labour force has reduced from 9.3% in quarter 4 of 2016 to 6.8% in quarter 4 of 2020. Again, that fact was not borne out in some of the contributions here today, which give the impression it is a much higher percentage. While the Tánaiste and all of us in government are committed to increasing overall wages and packages for employees, we have to also recognise where it is at currently in a factual conversation so we can focus in on this. The motion captures it pretty well compared to some of the speeches, but we have to bear that in mind.

While the system in Ireland works, it also must be accepted that recent inflation is concerning; we are all concerned about it and we are trying to respond. As the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, noted, colleagues across government and Departments, along with their officials, have been tasked with developing proposals for a package to help families with the cost of living and the Government plans to finalise this package shortly. We know some of that legislation is progressing today and more will be done. It is a difficult time, no doubt, and families are under pressure. We all meet them every day of the week and we all know families who are under immense pressure. We have to try to find new ways to be able to support them and find the ones who need that help, which it is important to do.

The Government acknowledges there are too many workers on low pay in Ireland and it has been clear this is something it intends to address. This is reflected in the work of the Tánaiste in the past couple of years and I know that, as the leader of my Department, it is a particular focus of his. We are trying to strengthen working conditions and strengthen the pay of workers, and we see that across a number of areas. It is important to bear in mind that it is the aim of the Government.

The Government has been clear in its belief that a legacy of the pandemic must be better pay, terms and conditions for everyone, but particularly for those on low pay. We are committed, therefore, to honouring the commitment in the programme for Government to progressing to a living wage over the lifetime of this Government, along with legislation for sick pay. In 2021, the Tánaiste asked the Low Pay Commission to examine the programme for Government commitment to progress to a living wage over the lifetime of the Government and to make recommendations on the best approach to achieving this commitment, something all speakers have asked for in this debate. Following this request, the Low Pay Commission commissioned a team of researchers at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth to conduct supporting research on the living wage. The terms of reference for this research were noted by Cabinet in 2021. This research was to consider the policy, social and economic implications of a move to a living wage and the process by which Ireland could progress towards it and achieve it. The research was to examine international evidence on living wages, examining different calculation methods, examining the policy implications and outlining options for moving to a living wage in Ireland.

I understand that, in January of this year, the commission received the living wage supporting research report from the researchers at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth and the commission is currently evaluating this research. I further understand that the commission is meeting with experts and stakeholders in this area, such as Eurofound, the UK Low Pay Commission, business and employer representatives and representatives of the Living Wage Technical Group operating in Ireland. The commission’s report and recommendations on the progression to a living wage should be delivered by the end of the first quarter of this year. The Government will respond to the recommendations after the Tánaiste receives and considers the report. We are making progress in this area and, hopefully, we will be able to outline a pathway to achieving it very soon.

The Low Pay Commission has stated that it "understands that a living wage may be defined as the minimum income necessary for a single adult worker in full time employment, with no dependents, to meet his or her basic needs and afford a minimum acceptable standard of living". As such, moving towards a living wage would, by definition, cover the costs of living, the apparent aim of the Solidarity-People Before Profit motion. The motion calls on the Government to "introduce a system whereby … the wages at a minimum cover any increases in the real cost of living". Work on achieving this is well under way. That is why we are at one on this and why we are not opposing the motion. We are trying to achieve the same thing. We have put in place a process to get us there, it is under way and we will have a roadmap setting it out in the coming months.

By progressing towards a living wage, the Government aims to maintain our well-functioning system while moving to ensure that wages cover a minimum acceptable standard of living that all in this House will agree to. Through moving towards a living wage, the Government will achieve what this motion aims to achieve, which is higher pay for low paid workers. It will achieve this constructively and through the Low Pay Commission, where, along with independent experts, there are an equal number of employer representative bodies and employee representatives. This allows for progress to a living wage to be made in a considered fashion, which works well in this country.

In progressing to a living wage, we need to recognise that many businesses have been badly affected by the pandemic and are struggling to pay existing wages. Likewise, many families are struggling to pay existing bills. We need to make sure that we proceed in a way that does not cause jobs to be lost in terms of the number of people employed or cause employees to have their hours cut. To do so would be counterproductive. What we are trying to achieve through our approach is a balance that recognises the pressures on employees and their families to pay their bills and make ends meet, while making sure we are able to continue to grow jobs and the recovery of this country.

The slogan of the campaign for a minimum wage in the United States was "$15 now because the rent won't wait". That is a slogan that will have a lot of echoes among a lot of young and not so young low-paid workers in this country this morning, given the shocking figures we have seen from daft.ie, which do not shock because we are all so used to it now.

The Minister of State mentioned six consecutive increases in the minimum wage. He should not worry about six consecutive increases. What about 37 consecutive quarterly increases in the price of rent in this State and the latest blow of 10%-plus annualised increases, if quarter 4 of 2021 is anything to go by? Of course, the highest rents in the country are in Dublin but let us not take the worst example. Let us take an alternative example in my own city of Cork, where the average price of rent is now more than €1,500 per month. Does the Minister of State know how much of the wage of a full-time worker on the minimum wage that would eat up? Let me tell him. It is 84%. How is anyone meant to feed themselves after that?

A woman told me recently:

This is my choice now with these cost of living increases. I can be reasonably well fed in a freezing house or I can starve in a warm house. They are the choices that I face.

Another woman told me her two sons are renting.

They have had to come back to the family home because they cannot afford the rent any more. What does that do to the weekly grocery and electricity bills? That is a story that will be recognised by tens of thousands of mams and dads throughout the country.

Let us come back to a central point in this debate. I have said in the House a few times and I will keep saying that the Minister of State and the Government have effectively cut the pay of the lowest-paid workers in the State. Last year the Government implemented one of its six consecutive 1% increases in the minimum wage. The European average was four times that. This year, the Government increased it by 2.9% at a time when official inflation, which is far below the rate of inflation for the low-paid, was 5.5%. The rate of inflation was nearly double the increase the Government conceded, which is a de facto cut in the pay of minimum wage workers, the lowest-paid workers in the country. This year, the average increase in minimum wage across the EU is 6%, more than double what the Government is paying out. An important point was raised in the debate by Deputy Paul Murphy when he talked about the wages paid to young people. Some 90% of the minimum wage, or €9.45 per hour, is paid to 19-year olds, while 18-year olds are paid 80%, or €8.40 per hour. For under-18s the figure is 70% of the minimum wage, or €7.35 per hour. This discrimination against young workers must stop. We need equal pay for work of equal value. That is a basic principle that we are asserting.

During the debate the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, made the claim that Irish workers are receiving among the highest wages in the EU. Workers will be in disbelief at that claim when they go to the supermarket checkout or when they scroll through their phones and look at their bank balances and their gut instinct is right. It is a false claim and fake news. In 2020, the Republic of Ireland ranked tenth in the Union for labour costs, including wages, pension contributions and social insurance. This was below the eurozone average and below the EU15 average. That is bad enough but on the other side of the coin we find that Ireland had the second-highest price level for consumer goods. In reality we were joint first because there is only a fraction of a difference between Ireland and Denmark in top place. The consumer price level in this Republic is 40% above the EU average. What a double-whammy that is with wages on the one hand and prices on the other. This is an international crisis, as the Government has argued, but it impacts particularly hard in this country for those reasons.

The Minister of State spoke about steps the Government is taking or trying to take and he is trying to steer the debate away from wages and onto the question of price controls but we will meet him on his own ground and debate price controls. Taking €100 off an electricity bill might be 15% of the bill paid for by the State with the ordinary person having to delve into his or her pocket for the other 85%. It is a fraction and a pathetic gesture. If the Government wants real price controls then we should debate rent. At a minimum, we should have a national rent freeze, although in reality at this stage we should be talking about legislation to cut the price of rent. The carbon tax increases the Minister of State is supporting that are coming on 1 May are already becoming an issue. A strong demand will bubble up in society that this increase be scrapped. Then there is the big issue and the elephant in the corner, namely the USC. This is the tax that had to be brought in because of the austerity era and the IMF. It was promised that when austerity was over the USC would be over but the Government has kept it in place. That will become an issue as well and I do not see any action from the Government on these fronts.

The following is a quote from Daniel McConnell on www.examiner.ie this morning:

The Government is bracing itself for industrial strife as public and private sector workers are demanding pay increases of at least 5%

The article quotes the deputy general secretary of the largest trade union in the country, SIPTU, who says the Government has a responsibility “to step up” on the issue of low pay. I do not want to make extravagant claims and the motion is not solely or mainly responsible for this; rather, it is the pressure of working people from below but there has been value in putting this motion down because it has helped and assisted to change the debate this week. It is not just about the issue of price controls. We want real price controls and the Government is only paying lip service to it. The issue of wages is beginning to come onto the agenda and this motion has played a role in assisting to put that on the agenda. That is important because worker organisation and action are key here.

The Government is a sham on this issue. I ask the Minister of State not to make me laugh at the idea that the Government is supporting this motion and that the House is all at one. The motion states that there must be an emergency increase in the national minimum wage by 1 May. I know, the Minister of State knows and everybody listening into this debate knows that the Government has no intention of doing that so I ask him not to try to cod anyone. The Government should have the guts to support its position and if it is going to vote for it then it should implement it. If the Government is against it then it should own its political position and vote against it. It should not engage in the slíbhín politics of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and vote for something with no intention of implementing it because that is precisely what I have heard from the Minister of State today.

I will make a point to working people who listened to that previous point. We will exert the pressure in here and do our best but the key is that on the ground they organise and submit pay claims. Hopefully there will be no need for industrial action and employers, seeing that workers are serious, will concede the pay claims. If not, workers must be prepared to fight and we will stand with them and back them because this is not just a cost-of-living crisis; rather, it is a cost-of-survival crisis and working people must not be the whipping boys as this Government, despite all its fine words, intends them to be.

We must consider Deputy O’Reilly’s amendment. Is amendment No. 1 agreed to?

Amendment No. 1 agreed to.

There is nobody here to move amendment No. 2 on behalf of the Labour Party.

Amendment No. 2 not moved.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
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