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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Vol. 1021 No. 7

Living Wage Bill 2022: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am delighted to introduce the Labour Party Living Wage Bill 2022. I propose to share time with my colleague, Deputy Nash. For many years, the Labour Party has campaigned for the introduction of a living wage in Ireland. To do so effectively requires a legislative framework and for that reason we have introduced this Bill. It could not be more timely as the cost of living crisis squeezes every household, individual and family throughout the country. We are conscious that inflation is at a 22 year high. We know that a radical package of measures is needed now to tackle that cost of living crisis and to ensure that households will be supported in attempting to meet rising costs. We in the Labour Party believe that Ireland needs a pay rise. It is as part of that campaign we are introducing this Bill.

We know that later this week the Consumer Price Index rate will be published by the Central Statistics Office, CSO, but it will not tell us anything we do not already know. We are hearing it daily from our constituents. I am hearing it from my constituents in Dublin Bay South. We know that inflation is at a record 22 year high and that the essentials on which every household relies are rising in price. We have seen basic groceries like milk, bread and pasta, heating and energy costs and fuel and gas prices increase in recent weeks and months. Rents in our capital city and across Ireland are at historic highs, with a real shortage of rental accommodation, as we all know. That is putting the cost of a secure home outside the reach of many individuals and couples.

Expensive childcare and medical bills, along with education and transport costs, are also squeezing everyone. Everyone is feeling the pinch. We have to see what can be done to address this. The Government has implemented some welcome measures. We welcomed the measures on public transport which took effect earlier this week but we in the Labour Party believe they do not go far enough. While there are welcome initiatives that can and should be taken to address the cost of services such as transport and childcare, on which we have put forward some radical proposals, we also need to see support measures in place to ensure people's incomes are increased. Every day, we are hearing from those whose incomes are no longer enough to meet the rising costs they face. They may be decent pay by relative standards, but that pay is no longer enough to meet the cost of living. We are also hearing from those who are low paid in Ireland. One in five of the Irish workforce is on low pay. We have a low-pay economy. That has always been an issue, but all the more so with the rising cost of living and with rising inflation.

The most effective way to address falling incomes is to ensure that Ireland gets a pay rise. We need to see an increase in real terms in the take home pay that people are left with at the end of the week or the month. That is why we are introducing this Bill. This Bill would go some way to addressing the issue of low pay. In particular, it would transform the minimum structure into a living wage structure. That would have a significant effect, in the first instance on those 130,000 workers who are currently on the minimum wage. The key difference between the current minimum wage of €10.50 per hour and what we are proposing is that a living wage is a mechanism to take into account the cost of living. It is a better way to ensure that people's incomes are sustained and supported through periods of rising inflation and rising prices. This is acknowledged by the Government in that the programme for Government includes a commitment to progress the national minimum wage into a living wage over the lifetime of the Government. Our concern is that we have not seen action in that regard to date. Almost two years into this Government's term, the lack of progress is costing those who need that pay rise now.

I am aware that the Tánaiste has said that he intends to bring proposals to Government by the summer. I am conscious that as recently as January of this year the Tánaiste received a report from the Low Pay Commission, based on academic research, into the introduction of a living wage and that that report has made recommendations, but we have not seen that report. It has not yet been published and so we are not clear as to how Government intends to make for any progress on the transformative strategy that is needed to change the minimum wage into a living wage. I would welcome a response from the Minister of State on that issue. In addition, we hope that the Government will see fit to support this Bill. With this Bill, we are seeking to ensure that the pressure is kept on and that the issue of a living wage is highlighted so that those on low pay are not left behind.

Let us see what would be done if this Bill were to be introduced. When the minimum wage was first introduced over 20 years ago it was set at two-thirds of median average income. Had it been maintained at that rate, it would now be approximately €12.90 per hour or equivalent to the 2021 living wage rate. That is significantly above the current rate of the minimum wage which, as we know, is set at €10.50 per hour. We are conscious that with inflation the living wage will need to increase by somewhere in the region of 7% this year, which would take it to €13.80 per hour by the end of the year. Instead, as I said, this year 130,000 workers are left with the current minimum wage of €10.50 per hour, leaving an hourly wage gap of over €2 between the legal minimum and what is estimated as necessary to sustain a decent standard of living. The most recent increase of 30 cent to the minimum wage in January was inadequate. It has been already swallowed up by rising inflation. As an interim measure, we have called for the minimum wage to be increased immediately by €1 per hour and for a mechanism or pathway to be put in place to increase that over time to a living wage. That is exactly what this Bill seeks to do. It would increase the minimum wage to a living wage and transform the system around the criteria and determination of pay rates and in doing so it would also have a transformative effect on the lives and incomes of those currently on the lowest of pay.

Clearly, we cannot just stop there. We need to see stronger rights for collective bargaining. Again, we in the Labour Party have consistently called for this. We know that in those countries where there are higher rates of unionisation and higher rates of collective pay bargaining, there are better mechanisms to achieve decent and sustainable pay rates.

We believe the State must use its purchasing power more effectively by rewarding and recognising those companies and employers that engage in collective bargaining and pay fair rates, and we are all aware of those employers. There are very decent employers that are doing so. Indeed, many employers currently have to pay increased wages to recruit where there are skills shortages and recruitment crises in sectors such as hospitality, home care and childcare.

I thank the living wage technical group for its work and research over many years, which has contributed to building the case for a living wage. I thank those campaigners and trade union members and activists who joined me and my Labour Party colleagues yesterday at the launch of the Bill. The technical group has given us a definition of the living wage and we are building on that in the Bill.

Turning to the detail of the Bill, to which my party colleagues will speak further, its purpose is to amend the National Minimum Wage Act so as to transform the minimum wage into this living wage mechanism. Section 2 will transform the Low Pay Commission, established my party colleague Deputy Nash when in government, into a living wage commission. While we recognise the Low Pay Commission has done excellent work and carried out important research, it is constrained through legislation from acting further on a living wage framework without direction from the Oireachtas. This is the enabling legislation, therefore, to transform the Low Pay Commission into a living wage commission.

Section 3 will assign new duties to the commission to allow it to make recommendations to transform that minimum hourly rate concept into one of a living wage, while section 4 sets out the new functions of the commission and, crucially, how the living wage will be determined. We are calling in this Bill for the minimum wage to be transformed into a living wage over a period of three years and, once that has been achieved, to enable an annual calculation to be carried out to maintain the appropriate rate of a living income. Critically, the living wage must not be less than two thirds of the median level of earnings of employees in the State, according to the figures most recently published by the CSO. The commission will have a set of criteria available to it, as set out in the Bill, as to how the living wage will be determined.

Before I conclude, I pay tribute to the work of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and, in particular, its recent report published for May Day, which emphasised the need both for a decent social wage in Ireland and for the Government to bring forward a package of measures to ensure employees' take-home pay will be effectively increased, through both tackling the cost of basic public services such as healthcare, which are free in many other European countries, and ensuring incomes will be increased through both a system of collective bargaining and increases to the minimum wage. This combination of measures will give Ireland an effective pay rise and households and individuals throughout the country a much-needed break. As I said when I launched the Labour Party’s Ireland Needs a Pay Rise campaign, a package of measures is needed. The Bill is one important part of that package, but we have also called on the Government to reduce the cost of childcare radically, extend free GP care to all children under 18, introduce free public transport and freeze rents for three years. Again, this package of measures, taken together, will ensure individuals, households and families throughout Ireland will get the pay rise that is so badly needed to address this crisis in the cost of living.

I am proud to support and second the Bill, which is anchored in the very best traditions of the Labour Party. We fundamentally believe work must always pay. That is an absolute, fundamental principle for us and for the wider labour movement. It is timely that we now reflect on pay policy nationally, and when we do, we should do so in an informed and evidence-based way. For many, the market decides what they are paid; for others, it is a collective endeavour negotiated between the employer and trade unions through employment level agreements, collective agreements, or sectoral employment orders or employment regulation orders. For more than 130,000 of the lowest paid workers, the statutory Low Pay Commission has, since 2015, recommended in an evidence-based way the rate of the national minimum wage for the following year, adoption of which, of course, is a matter for Government agreement.

Prior to the National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Act 2015, nobody would have said the way in which the national minimum wage was set was perfect - far from it. The first minimum wage rate was set and introduced in 2000, under the terms of the National Minimum Wage Act 2000. The legislation made the setting of the rate a matter for the Minister of the day, with a genuflection in the direction of the social partners. Given the experience in 2010, we can say with hindsight that giving all that power to the Minister of the day was a bad idea. It turned out to be a very bad idea for low-paid workers, in light of what happened in 2010. As soon as the crash came, Fianna Fáil, the Minister of State's party, slashed the national minimum wage with the stroke of a pen, from €8.65 to €7.65 an hour. This was the most callous of cuts, made with the connivance of ideologues in the IMF. I say "ideologues" because that is exactly what they were. The economic orthodoxy in vogue at the time claimed that by cutting pay, we would create jobs. This was always arrant nonsense and that was proven to be the case with evidence put forward to challenge the narrative. The lowest paid workers in this country were sent home with a pay cut they could ill afford.

With respect, this will be to the eternal shame of the Minister of State's party. That cut did not create a single job, prevent a single worker from losing his or her job or create a single hour of additional employment. All it did was lead to penury and more pain for the lowest paid workers. Who will ever forget the passionate and forensic demolition of that tawdry and senseless cut by the then Deputy Michael D. Higgins, in the very last contribution he made in the House as a Labour Party Deputy before he went on to be elected and to represent us with great pride as our President? With that speech ringing in our ears when we were elected to government in 2011, we almost immediately set about restoring the rate to €8.65 an hour. One reason we established the Low Pay Commission in the first instance was to provide a bulwark against ill-informed, ideologically motivated cuts to the floor of pay, beneath which no worker should be allowed to fall.

I am proud, along with my Labour Party colleagues, to have established the Low Pay Commission, probably the single most important institutional reform on the statutory landscape to protect and advance the interests of lower paid workers. One of the most significant but underappreciated functions of the commission relates to the remit we gave it regarding research into low pay. Resistance to increasing statutory minimum rates of pay among some has been as ill informed as it has been vociferous and aggressive. A dearth of such evidence was available in an Irish context to challenge the narrative in play in late 2010 and early 2011. The argument was that if we were to increase the national minimum wage each year, the sky would fall in and it would be the end of the market economy as we knew it. Businesses would close and thousands of jobs would be lost, but nothing of the sort happened when we increased the minimum wage twice. As it happened, research the Low Pay Commission commissioned from the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, confirmed what we had said all along, namely, that predictable incremental increases to the national minimum wage will not close businesses or cost jobs but, in fact, can boost the economy and productivity and help with staff retention, and we know how difficult an issue staff retention is these days.

The Low Pay Commission has changed the conversation and changed the debate. It has armed us with the evidence we need to challenge the bogus arguments we have been exposed to for years. It has significantly delivered minimum wage increases every year since 2016. The largest annual increase in that period remains the one we signed into law in 2015, which came into effect in 2016, namely, an increase of 50 cent an hour. If it were not for the statutory function of the Low Pay Commission to make an annual recommendation on the rate of the minimum wage based on a framework embedded in legislation, it is safe to assume we simply would not have seen annual increases the likes of which we have seen since the establishment of the commission.

The question is how we can move to a living wage that meets the needs of working people. The programme for Government, agreed between three parties, states that within the lifetime of this Administration, we will see the delivery of a living wage. I am sceptical, and I am not making a narrow political point, because of the form of the previous Government. I am sceptical because, between 2016 and 2020, that Government missed the national minimum wage targets it had set out in the programme for Government agreed in 2016. Indeed, the Government has yet to tell us how a living wage will be achieved in this country.

Since 2016, we have told the last two Governments how this should be achieved. As Deputy Bacik outlined, the Bill sets out that the Low Pay Commission must be given a target in law to achieve a living wage.

This House will be familiar with putting targets into law, especially over recent years. We have legally binding climate targets. We can give the Low Pay Commission a target of reaching a living wage of two thirds of the median hourly income over a three-year period. If we can have targets for climate and carbon emissions, why can we not have targets to put an end to low pay? In real terms, the living wage is €12.90 an hour. That is the rate agreed by the living wage technical group last year as the rate of the living wage for this year. That is about two thirds of median hourly income. The gap between the national minimum wage and the living wage is €2.40 an hour for every hour someone works. Therefore, a full-time worker on a real living wage earns just under €100 a week more than someone on the same hours who merely subsists on the national minimum wage. That is intolerable. There is no argument for it. It is unacceptable . The gap between the national minimum wage and the living wage is rising each year and becoming even more problematic as low-paid workers who spend every cent that they earn on the bills and basics see the value of their hard-earned euro diminish by the week in the context of the cost-of-living crisis which we are experiencing now and is likely to continue for the next couple of years.

The case for a living wage is more acute than it was before. We need a roadmap for a direction of travel, anchored in primary legislation, to provide some certainty to workers and employers on how the living wage that we want, and that the Government says it is committed to, is to be achieved. That is what this Bill is fundamentally about. It is about making the historic quest for a living wage that allows everyone who works to have a decent standard of living a reality.

Poverty hurts. It stays with you all of your life. We in this House clap ourselves on the back collectively. We tell ourselves what a great job we do in this country as our welfare system lifts hundreds of thousands of the working poor out of absolute poverty but we rarely ask ourselves why we must spend so much on income supports such as the working family payment each year. We do so because we, this House and this Government, allow bad employers to pay poverty wages. It is an absolute scandal that taxpayers spend hundreds of millions of euro every year topping up the meagre subsistence wages paid by hospitality bosses, for example, who have made careers out of extorting more cash from the State. They are at it again without any reference whatsoever to the pay, terms and conditions of their employees - the very people who make their businesses a success. A successful society would not be comfortable and should not be comfortable with having one in five of its workers on low pay. We need a living wage now. We need to make this a reality now and stop the talk. We need action. We need to put in legislation a target for a living wage attached to the Low Pay Commission to achieve such a living wage in law in this country over the next three years. This will make sure we end in-work poverty and we achieve the aspiration that work should always pay.

I thank the Labour Party for putting this important Bill before the House and giving us an opportunity to discuss it. The Government will not oppose the Bill. I will not get political like the previous speaker and take the opportunity to remind his party of its record in government between 2011 and 2016.

Thanks for signing the agreement.

We remember the pledges it made in 2011. The Deputy and the Labour Party leader have rightly acknowledged that there is a commitment in the programme for Government to progress to a living wage in the lifetime of this Government. This Bill is broadly in line with that objective. The Government agrees with the principle underpinning the Bill that an annual living wage paid to a single adult person living alone and in full-time employment should afford that person a standard of living that meets the physical, psychological and social needs of recipients at a minimum but socially acceptable level.

In January 2021, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment asked the Low Pay Commission, LPC, to examine the programme for Government commitment to progress to a living wage. He asked the commission to make recommendations to him on how best Ireland can achieve this commitment. To aid this work, the LPC commissioned a team of researchers from Maynooth University to conduct supporting research on a living wage. 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. It was also to examine international evidence of living wages, involving different calculation methods, consider the policy implications and outline the options for moving to a living wage in Ireland. The LPC received the final research report in January 2022. As part of its deliberations, the commission then met with a number of stakeholders and representative groups. The LPC submitted its living wage report to the Tánaiste at the end of March and not the end of January, as Deputy Bacik suggested. The LPC report is being reviewed and it is planned to publish it along with the supporting research report in the very near future. By honouring the programme for Government commitment, Ireland will be among the early movers in adopting a national mandatory living wage.

There are various methods available for calculating a living wage, most notably the basket of goods and services approach, whereby each year there is a decision on the amount needed to cover these items and achieve an agreed standard of living. Alternatively, a fixed threshold approach can be used, whereby the living wage would be set as a percentage of the median wage. While this Bill calls for a fixed threshold approach to be used, other groups in civil society favour the basket of goods and services approach. The LPC, aided by the research report, will have considered the merits of both approaches and that detail will be available when the LPC report is published.

On a timeline for the introduction of a living wage, it is worth noting that the UK low pay commission has charted a five-year path towards achieving a living wage set as a proportion of the median wage by 2024. A similar approach could also be followed in Ireland as it is important to give employers enough time to plan, prepare and adjust to any such changes in the rate of minimum pay. It is important that everything that this Government does in relation to low pay is done on a phased basis so that increased costs for employers can be managed.

The Government has spoken about how the pandemic has caused many of us to reconsider and re-evaluate what an essential worker is. We now understand that it is a much broader group of workers than some people would have originally described, many of whom are on low pay and in the private sector. The Government has been clear in its belief that the legacy of the pandemic must be a fairer society with better pay, terms and conditions for all workers, particularly those on low pay. In considering the progression to a living wage, however, we need to make sure the changes that are made are done in a way that does not affect adversely employment or inflation. We need to make sure we proceed in a way that does not cause jobs to be lost, in terms of the numbers of people employed, or see employees having their hours cut or being forced into precarious employment. To do so would be counterproductive. We need to recognise that many businesses are feeling the effects of the pandemic and are also starting to feel the pressure of rising costs.

The Government is aware that recent increases in the cost of living have resulted in a greater focus on low pay. Rising energy prices have been one factor driving the increase in the cost of living since mid-2021. In February 2022, the Government announced a package of policy measures worth €500 million designed to support households, including an energy credit of €200 and a fuel allowance lump-sum payment of €125. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has led to further energy price increases and brought unprecedented volatility to international energy markets. This is feeding through the retail price increases to all households and businesses. The Government has put in place targeted measures to reduce the burden of these cost pressures for businesses and households. Given the volatility of fuel prices, it is important that measures are sustainable and targeted.

With a broader view towards income and living standards for low pay over the longer term, what this Government has done and is doing to address the issues should be acknowledged. Central to this has been the increase in the national minimum wage. Since its establishment in 2015, the Low Pay Commission has been responsible for making annual recommendations to Government on the appropriate rate of national minimum wage. The national minimum wage seeks to balance between a fair and sustainable rate for low-paid workers and one that will not have significant negative consequences for employers and competitiveness. The Low Pay Commission is made up of an equal number of employer representatives, employee representatives and independent members, which helps to provide a balanced view when determining an appropriate rate for the national minimum wage.

The establishing legislation requires the Low Pay Commission to give consideration to a range of issues when arriving at recommendations for the appropriate national minimum wage rate. As already mentioned, these include the impact on competitiveness, the likely effect that any proposed recommendation will have on future levels of employment and also the impact any proposed recommendation will subsequently have on the cost of living. As the national minimum wage is legally enforceable, it provides protection for workers.

When considering the increases in the national minimum wage during a period of inflation, the Government must be conscious of the need to avoid second round effects. Pumping more money into the economy could lead to further inflation. The Low Pay Commission is legislatively required to provide recommendations to the Minister by the third week in July. The recommended increase in the minimum wage is then normally declared as part of the budget in October, coming into force the following January.

The Low Pay 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 has increased from €8.65 per hour to €10.50 per hour between 2016 and 2022 in line with the recommendations from the Low Pay Commission. The Government is supportive of the Low Pay Commission and the work it has carried out since its foundation and respects its independence.

Ireland has a well-established system to set the minimum wage based around the Low Pay Commission. This system works well. Since its establishment, the Low Pay Commission has delivered six consecutive annual increases in the minimum wage. The next recommendation on the national minimum wage is due to be received in July of this year. In tandem, the Government will be considering the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission with regard to the programme for Government commitment to progress to a living wage over the lifetime of this Government. The Government does not oppose this Bill and we will engage in detail in the subsequent Stages of the Bill.

I thank the Minister of State. Deputy Ó Ríordáin is sharing with Deputy Sherlock. They have five minutes each.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. We appreciate that he is not opposing the Bill but again, our interest is in what that actually means. Many pieces of legislation are brought forward in these Houses that the Government says it will not oppose. It cannot be a passive act, however, and it must work with Opposition to bring this to fruition. I am glad to see that Mr. David Joyce has joined us here today to witness the debate. I want to pay tribute to the party leader, Deputy Bacik, and to my colleague, Deputy Nash, for bringing forward this legislation.

We constantly impress upon the Minister of State, and we will keep repeating, that an epidemic of low pay exists in Ireland. When we use language such as "living wage", the whole point of a living wage is that somebody can live. It is spirit crushing to work a long week and not to have enough money to live. There is a big difference in a person's mentality and spirit between being broke and being poor. Broke means it is an inconvenience for a period of time. There is something that a person possibly cannot buy but he or she knows there is an expectation that it will not last that long. Being poor is very different, however. It is spirit crushing. If a child begins to feel it from his or her parent, parents or person in the household who is bringing back that low pay, then that sense of being poor sucks itself into the marrow of the child's bones and lasts a lifetime. He or she cannot and does not shake it and then passes it on to his or her own children. That is what we are talking about when we use phrases like "living wage". It is about the ability to live without that spirit-crushing sense of poverty or being poor.

Some 23% of Irish workers are in low pay. I did not believe it until a number of years ago when my colleague, Deputy Nash, told me this figure, and that when it comes to low pay in Ireland, we are the third highest in the OECD in terms of the proportion of Irish workers who are in low pay. Some 40% of workers aged under 30 are also in insecure work. However, let us get back to low pay for a second and its impact on a family. Not only that but there are also things in Irish society that people are expected to pay for that they are not expected to pay for in other European countries such as GP care, schoolbooks and other basic provisions the State would normally provide. In Ireland, therefore, it has an even bigger effect.

I heard recently at the Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment about the suggestion of bringing forward legislation on sick pay. It was remarkable to me to hear all the Government Members' response and, indeed, those from members of the Opposition about the position of the employer. We appreciate that but we must again set our mindset to change everything we do to ensure that child does not feel that sense of being poor the rest of his or her life and passes it on to the next generation. That is the game here. It is having an entitlement to pay that lifts a person up to have an ability to live. Testimonies have been sent in from around the country on how low pay affects young people.

As my colleague, Deputy Nash, already said, the Government's decision to continue the low rate of VAT until February 2023 is absolutely welcome for the hospitality industry. People working in the industry are three times more likely to be on the minimum wage, however. Where is the deal? Where is the demand from the Government to this industry that is paying its workers so poorly that as a result of getting this VAT cut, they must pay their workers a decent wage that allows them to live? Again, we impress on the Minister of State that the language is so important here. We are not just dealing with minimums; we are dealing with the capacity to live. We are also dealing with that child who cannot feel the weight of the sense of being poor.

I welcome the publication of this Bill in the name of Deputy Bacik. I congratulate my colleagues for bringing forward this Bill and those who worked on it within our team on the Labour benches. It is worth reiterating what the Bill sets out to do. I welcome the fact that the Minister of State said the Government is not opposing it at Second Stage.

In Ireland, approximately 380,000 workers earn less than the officially accepted threshold of low pay, which is two thirds of median income. This is one of the highest proportions of workers on low pay, approximately one fifth, in the European Union or OECD. Women are more likely than men to be in a low paid job.

In June 2000, when the first national minimum wage rate was declared, it was set at a level slightly higher than two thirds of the median average income. Following the recommendations of the national minimum wage commission published in April 1998, the initial rate was €4.40, which was approximately 73% of the median hourly earnings of €6. Following the initial rate, however, the national minimum wage, or NMW as we call it, has failed to keep up with rises in median average incomes, falling to closer to 40% of median earnings.

As the Minister of State said, the programme for Government has committed to progress from the current national minimum wage to a living wage. It is important for us to explain for people who are listening to and watching these debates that there is a significant difference between the minimum wage and a living wage.

That has been well articulated by our colleagues. We want progress on this. We are now two years into this Government. The Low Pay Commission has furnished its report to the Minister and we would like greater urgency with regard to its publication. Whatever recommendations are in that report would give life to that living wage that we are all advocating for. Unlike the national minimum wage, which is not based on the cost of living, a living wage can be defined as the rate of pay that would enable full-time employed adults across the State to afford a minimum socially acceptable standard of living. It provides for needs, not wants. It is evidence-based and grounded in social consensus. That is the purpose of this Bill. It is worth articulating the views of those who are under severe pressure at the moment, that is, low-paid workers throughout Irish society, people like Linda, a young working parent in Cork, who contacted us to say:

A pay increase would mean that I would be able to afford the necessary maintenance my house is in desperate need of. At the moment with childcare being so expensive I don’t know if I can keep my job. My husband’s job is a low pay job and I don’t know what to do.

It feels like I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

It is precisely people like Linda we are speaking for here. They are now in a position where they do not even know if they can maintain themselves in full-time employment. There is a cost to them in keeping their jobs. That is the irony and tragedy of the situation. It may, ironically, be more beneficial for somebody like Linda to move to a situation where the family is entirely dependent on the Department of Social Protection. It is for those people that we speak. I think the Minister of State is sympathetic to that, to be fair to him. He has said he is not going to oppose the Bill. This is an issue on which all of us in this House can unite. If we can all work together to bring about this living wage and have a meaningful impact for people like Linda and thousands of others like her, we will have done a good day's work.

I apologise to the Deputies who have brought this Bill forward as I cannot stay for the debate. We are debating the TRIPS waiver at the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment and I do not want to miss that. My inability to bilocate is hampering me once again.

I thank the Deputies for bringing this legislation forward. It is very clear we will not tackle poverty unless we tackle low wages. I welcome my colleague David Joyce to the Gallery. I am reminded of the words of my former colleague, who is now the General Secretary of ICTU, when she said that as a society there must be a threshold of decency below which we will not go. The living wage represents that threshold of decency. I am not going to pretend this has always been Labour Party policy. In 2015, when the Low Pay Commission was being brought in, Sinn Féin argued to include a reference to the living wage as part of that and on three separate occasions, when amendments were brought to that effect, they were not accepted by the Labour Party. That is regrettable. I am proud to be here as a member of a party that has consistently championed the living wage. This week I received back substantial legislation from the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisor, OPLA, which contains some of the elements of this Bill, although it is a broader piece of work. At every opportunity, including in 2015, we sought to amend the Low Pay Commission proposals to include a reference to the living wage. That was done on First Stage, Committee Stage and Report Stage. I will not quote all of what was said at the time but the response from the Minister of State at the time was this:

[The Sinn Féin amendment] seeks to have the Low Pay Commission, in addition to its obligation to issue an annual recommendation on the national minimum hourly rate of pay, be required to make an annual recommendation to the Minister on a living wage. I have spoken in the past, both here and elsewhere, about my support for the concept... However, we need to differentiate between the application of a national statutory minimum wage and the living wage movement, which is a societal movement that would see employers volunteer to pay...what is agreed to be a living wage.

It is very clear that the Labour Party has been on a bit of a journey, which is brilliant, and now recognises that a voluntary system is not going to work. This needs to be legislated for and, as is the case with all legislation of this type, there is always a clause within it allowing an employer who genuinely cannot pay to go to the Labour Court and demonstrate and prove that. That is important.

I note the Minister of State is not opposing the Bill but to echo what has been said previously, not opposing something is not the same as supporting it. I would like to see support from the Government on occasion for legislation coming from the Opposition. The Minister of State says he does not oppose the Bill but he could support it, which would be a much more positive way of framing it. I am very proud to be the party of the living wage. In 2015, we sought to amend what the Labour Party was doing. In 2019 we brought a motion on the living wage. We raised it again in 2020, 2021 and 2022. As I said, my legislation on the matter will be moved very shortly. In the meantime, while we wait for a progressive Government that will actually make a difference to the lives of workers and families, I encourage any person watching this debate to join their trade union. They should find out what union is appropriate to their workplace, join that trade union and bargain at the level of their workplace for a living wage because it represents a threshold of decency below which we should not allow ourselves to go. All over the State, trade unions are bargaining and winning pay rises at the level of the workplace and they are doing so through collective action. They are doing it despite a failure to legislate for collective bargaining - we can discuss that another day - and they are winning.

The Government says the living wage is a grand idea but it is not really going to do much about it. In the absence of a progressive Government that is going to push for it, I encourage people to join their union, get active in their union, make sure their voice is heard at work and make sure they get a fair day's pay for a good day's work. I commend the Members for bringing forward this Bill and welcome the debate on it. It would be much more welcome if we could, just for once, debate legislation the Government does not oppose and hear a Minister say he or she will actually support it.

I too welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and acknowledge the fact that the Labour Party has put it forward. This issue is not something new. A recent article titled "Sinn Féin TD says 'living wage' is needed to address cost of living crisis" stated:

Speaking in the Dáil on a Sinn Féin proposal to introduce a 'living wage' of €12.90, local TD Brian Stanley said there was a "crisis in the cost of living" with rents and other prices soaring while wages remained static...

This debate goes back to 2015. We are now in 2022 and we are still talking about it. The Minister of State mentioned the minimum wage but as others have said, a living wage is what is needed. We are all aware of the issue in our own constituencies where people simply cannot afford to live. I was struck that in this Bill, a living wage is defined as an annual wage that "in the opinion of the Commission, if paid to a single adult person living alone and in full-time employment, would afford the person a standard of living that meets the physical, psychological and social needs". That is the key to this Bill, that commonsense approach. I saw something on social media during the week that showed how workers are being pitted against each other. A person driving a machine on a building site said he was working for X amount a week building houses and yet he would not be able to afford them. That is the reality of what is happening in the country at the moment because people do not have a living wage to survive.

In his opening statement, the Minister of State mentioned that he would not be opposing this Bill and other Deputies stated that, although they would not oppose it, they would not support it either. That worries me. Matters have not moved quickly since 2015, but I hope that this Bill progresses with the support of everyone in the House. Please God, we will set down a standard and be able to look back some day and say that the House did the right thing for once.

A living wage makes possible a minimum acceptable standard of living. Work should provide an adequate income to enable individuals to afford a socially acceptable standard of living - a living wage that provides for needs, not wants. A living wage would help to provide employees with sufficient income to achieve a minimum standard of living. In other words, it would be an income floor or the bottom line.

Employees below the living wage are forced to do without essentials to make ends meet. In a cost-of-living crisis where the cost of rent, fuel, healthcare, childcare and food has gone through the roof and people have to choose between paying rent, heating their homes and putting food on the table, people need a living wage now more than ever to try to stay out of poverty and avoid being pushed into the hands of moneylenders that charge extortionate rates.

Low-paid workers are wondering whether they will ever be able to build or own their own homes or be offered local authority housing. Only a couple of days ago, figures were released to my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, on local authority affordable or advance purchase housing for the years 2022 to 2026. In my constituency of Meath West, there are more than 4,000 people on the social housing list, yet the Government can only commit to building 30 affordable homes there per year. In the Minister of State's county of Westmeath, where 2,000 people are on the social housing waiting list, the Government will commit to building 15 homes per year. Is that acceptable to him? What kind of ambition is this from a Government that claims it will solve the housing crisis? What hope is there for people on low wages of owning their own homes? The Government tells the Dáil every week that the situation is getting better, but better for whom?

In 2007, the minimum wage was €8.30 per hour. In 2022, it is €10.50, yet the cost of living has trebled in most cases. The change in the minimum wage does not reflect the current market. It is time we looked after those who need it most. Families are struggling to live with the rising cost of heating oil, electricity, gas, diesel and insurance. People who work for a living should be able to earn a living.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an mBille seo ó Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre.

When we discuss a living wage, we are by extension talking about the conditions of many workers across the State. Hundreds of thousands of workers are on low pay and just about keeping their heads above the poverty line. Families face a daily struggle to make ends meet and many are living from week to week. Some families are a pay packet away from homelessness as they struggle to pay their rents or utility bills, transport to work, food, clothing or exorbitant childcare costs.

Low pay has consequences for the economy, in that people's spending power is severely reduced. There is also reduced tax revenues and an increase in demands for welfare support.

People should not have to compromise and decide between putting food on their tables, heating their houses and accessing healthcare. A living wage will give a worker more disposable income, which could be spent in local businesses to the benefit of the local economy. More importantly, a living wage allows a worker to afford basic essentials like healthcare, food, clothing, housing, education, energy and so on. A living wage allows a worker to have an income that can provide him or her with a minimum acceptable standard of living.

Ireland has a larger number of low-paid workers than countries of similar economic status across the OECD. We are in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis and inflation, which is still rising, is at the highest level it has been for nearly 20 years. A living wage in this economic climate would significantly address income inequality and poverty levels and fuel economic growth.

In this economy, many people are not being paid enough to live. They face significant pressures each and every day. While a minimum wage has been placed on a statutory footing, there is no compulsion on any employer to pay workers at a rate that would constitute a living wage. Low-paid workers make a considerable contribution to the economy, but without a living wage, they cannot participate fully in society. This has to change, even if that requires legislation. No worker should be left behind and everyone should be entitled to, and be paid, a living wage.

I commend the Labour Party on introducing this Bill, which is aptly timed and welcome. Workers, in particular low- and middle-income families, are under extreme financial strain. The consumer price index, CPI, is hovering at 6.9%, with the likelihood of it peaking at between 7% and 8.2% mid-summer. The latest European Commission figures show Ireland as having the fourth dearest energy costs in Europe. That is before any added Government VAT or other taxes. On top of all of this, energy companies surreptitiously increased their electricity, gas and oil prices, increasing the average family's annual electricity and gas bills by €800. Add to this the carbon tax, the property tax and the cost of home heating oil and you will have very little left in your pocket if you are on a low income of €350 per week or an average take-home pay of €750 per week. In fact, you will have no disposable income whatsoever. This is why we need the Government to support the Living Wage Bill. It will change the Low Pay Commission into the living wage commission and give the new commission a remit to make recommendations on a living wage within the parameters of a three-year cycle.

We must come to the consensus that a worker should have the right to a minimum hourly rate of pay that allows him or her to make a sustainable and qualitatively decent living regardless of where he or she works. Under the programme for Government, the Government has committed to progressing the minimum wage into a living wage. The Government is halfway through its term but has still made little or no progress. Now is the time to put its words into action. We in Sinn Féin have always, and will always, stand by the working people of Ireland.

I thank the Labour Party for introducing this Bill and look forward to the Government's committed support for a living wage, as outlined in the programme for Government.

I welcome this Labour Party Bill, which would give a much-needed break to workers and families. Thousands of young people are still leaving in their droves because of poor opportunities, low wages and a lack of access to housing and childcare. This is creating a future with a skills crisis and families left devastated at home.

We have one of the highest rates of low-paid workers in the developed world, with 20% of our workers in low-paid jobs and 50% of women earning €20,000 or less per year. A living wage provides just what it says, namely, fair pay for fair work and the means for people to pay their bills, educate their children and own their homes. These are simple matters that should be afforded to every citizen.

We must also pay attention to the needs of SMEs and social enterprises. Some 70% of people employed in the private sector work for SMEs. How can we help them? Opening up procurement, maximising the potential of e-commerce and abolishing upward-only rents are just some of the ways that the Government could, and should, make it easier to do business in Ireland.

Regarding social enterprise, the community services programme, CSP, is a matter that I have often raised in the Chamber and at committees. We need to consider a system wherein the State funds wage increases on social enterprise projects, raising them to the point of a living wage as opposed to the minimum wage. Unfortunately, while many projects would love to pay their workers a living wage, they cannot because the payment from Pobal and the Government is too low.

With the ever-increasing cost of living, it is imperative that the Government increase the minimum wage by at least €1 and move towards a living wage for all workers. Merely stating that it will not oppose this Bill is not the same as supporting a living wage.

We are here to discuss the living wage. Specifically, we are talking about ensuring that people have sufficient money to meet their absolute needs. We are not talking about their wants, but about their needs and about the basic level of income required to live normally in our society. It should be a given that we provide this as a society. Otherwise, we will be providing people with insufficient money to live their lives.

We all know about the situation we are in with the cost-of-living crisis. We know that some of the latter-day sins of this State involve some of the costs that are heaped on people, and that is specific to housing. We have all had people come into our constituency offices and we all know people who are suffering because they have to pay inordinate rents. We know people who are struggling to get on the housing lists and we know the income thresholds need to be looked at. These thresholds are constantly being reviewed but we never see an end result. There is a problem with how assessments are made, with local authorities being forced to take account of earnings for the entire year. This can throw up certain anomalies which can prevent people, on a technicality, from getting onto a housing list. It has even cost people who have been on the housing list for years the chance to avail of a house. In some cases, people apply and are added to the housing list but then go back to receiving the HAP, having not secured a house for which they have waited many years.

I raised the HAP with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage a number of times last week. I mentioned that people cannot enter into a payment plan now, which may be necessary if someone becomes sick. I also raised the specific case of someone who worked in healthcare being unable to get a payment plan. This person had legacy arrears of around €1,600 and was asked to pay them straight away. That is criminal. Where will people get that sort of money? In some cases, people will enter into payment plans and even if they are broken, they will clear the arrears. Everybody is a winner there. The only alternative is to ask people to borrow from moneylenders or to put them into homelessness. That still leaves local authorities on the hook for delivering but puts people through unbelievable hardship and difficulty.

Large numbers of elected representatives are busy dealing with a new disaster the Government needs to address. We know about the issue with rentals. Even people who are earning money are struggling to get mortgages. We have all heard the abysmal figures on the Government's offering in the area of affordable housing. The local authority in County Louth will deliver 226 houses between 2022 and 2026. This will not cut it. We need far more innovation, imagination and creativity, while also dealing with the crisis caused by the war in Ukraine. It is not beyond us to deal with these issues. A living wage is one of the solutions we can provide. We need to look at the mitigations that are necessary in the area of home heating oil, fuel and the energy crisis. I raised the specific issue of Carlinn Hall in Dundalk a number of times and I expect it to be dealt with very quickly.

I welcome this Bill from the Labour Party on a living wage, which the Social Democrats are happy to support. The introduction of a living wage is essential and there are no reasonable grounds for opposing its introduction. Robert Thornton, a member of the living wage technical group, described it as follows:

The living wage rate is based on the rationale that full-time employment will at least provide for a socially acceptable minimum standard of living for a single person without dependents. It represents the minimum required to meet physical, social, and psychological needs, and enable a life with dignity. Having an income below this standard of living means doing without goods and services which are essential for taking part in the norms of everyday life in Ireland.

Low pay is not a recent problem. It has been an issue for decades. It is a feature, unfortunately, of the Irish economy. Ireland has the third highest rate of low-paid workers in the EU, making up 23% of the workforce. We should be ashamed of that disgraceful statistic. The prevalence of low pay has fuelled the rate of in-work poverty, where households in which someone is in employment are still dependent on welfare to meet their needs. I do not know how many times I have heard the likes of the Tánaiste say the best way to address poverty is to get people into work. That is conditional on being paid a living wage. There has to be a line added to that point that the best way to lift people out of poverty is to get them into work.

It is not only bad for the individual to struggle constantly but it is also bad for the economy and society. We are all impacted by this. Low pay results in a lower tax take and means a higher need for supports such as the HAP, 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. Countries with greater levels of equality perform higher in areas such as life expectancy, as well as physical and mental health. The Spirit Level is a good book which addresses that issue right across the spectrum.

The introduction of a living wage was committed to in the programme for Government. It is essential that the Minister provide a concrete plan on how we will get to a living wage. The Tánaiste stated recently that his preferred option for calculating the living wage would be to set it as a percentage of the median wage, as that process would be simpler. That approach may be simpler and the outcome may be higher than the minimum wage but it is not a living wage. That is an important point. A living wage, by definition, is about meeting the minimum essential standard of living and that cannot be quantified as a percentage of the median wage. When introduced, the living wage needs to be kept under constant review. Linking it to inflation will also be vital.

Inflation is set to reach around 8% this year. We can all see that money just does not stretch as far as it did even months ago. The rising cost of living puts pressure on everyone, particularly those defined as low-paid workers. A large number of people are finding it more difficult to put food on the table and heat their homes at the same time. An increasing number of households can no longer afford to do both. Every facet of daily life has been impacted. Before the recent rise in inflation, the cost of living in Ireland was 36% above the EU average. The cost of housing here is the highest in Europe, the cost of goods and services is the second highest in Europe and our fuel costs are the fourth highest in Europe. Many people in this country are simply not paid enough to live. There are people who worry every day about having nothing in reserve. If there is any little blip, they will not have enough for the bus fare. They worry about having to take a day off work sick as there is nothing in reserve. That impacts hugely on their quality of life.

A living wage reduces the number of people reliant on Government supports, improves quality of life and results in improved health and well-being. Much is made of the impact of a living wage on labour costs for employers, but those costs are offset by a wide range of benefits. A living wage results in greater staff retention and productivity, lower rates of turnover and absenteeism, a better reputation as an employer and an overall increase in motivation and morale in the workplace. Sectors with chronic low pay have a high rate of staff turnover, which does not benefit anyone. Workers are left in unstable working conditions where they do not earn enough to live in any kind of dignity and employers lose valuable institutional knowledge and spend time on frequent recruitment drives. To find an example of this we only need to look at ourselves. There is a very high rate of turnover among secretarial assistants in the Oireachtas. The starting salary is €24,423 and new recruits are obliged to start on the lowest band, regardless of education or experience. That salary is below the living wage and it sits uncomfortably with many of us in this House.

Countries that have done better in regard to a living wage have in place a system of free collective bargaining.

We do not take free collective bargaining seriously in this country and we are an outlier among European jurisdictions in that regard. In recent years, we have increasingly seen more precarious types of employment develop and, in the main, it is young people who are most at risk. We need to change our value system in that regard or we will have a race to the bottom.

There is a myriad of reasons to introduce a living wage, but most importantly, it is the right thing to do. A living wage contributes to building a society where we live and treat each other with respect and equality.

I welcome this Bill, which is very topical in the context of workers trying to weather the current storm of inflation. It is up to the Government to determine whether it will legislate for a living wage, but the trade union movement also has a huge part to play in representing the one in five workers who find themselves in low-paid employment. Most of that employment is in hospitality, retail and food production. Some companies in those sectors are extremely profitable while paying their workers what can only be described as an unliveable wage.

An important issue in the debate about pay is the phenomenon, which is not new, of the working poor. People, mainly women, are working in full-time jobs but are struggling. Indeed, they are struggling so much that they find it hard to exist. It is quite incredible that people who are going out to work for 39 hours per week are finding the basics unaffordable. The cost-of-living crisis is having an enormous impact on workers' standard of living. Their spending power now is nothing like it was even two or three years ago. The price rise spiral is pushing people into poverty who were never in poverty before, and that will have a negative social impact.

I urge the Minister of State to think of the benefits of a living wage. The first and most obvious benefit is that workers on a living wage would have at least €100 more than they would have if they were on the minimum wage. Obviously, that means they have more money in their pocket, which they will spend in the economy. People on a living wage, who are earning more than they would earn on a minimum wage, will be more productive and happier, and that will trickle down into their family and social life. All of the evidence across the industrialised world shows that clearly.

We cannot talk about low pay in isolation or without referring to the wealthy in this country who are doing incredibly well. Ireland ranks as the 14th richest in the world in terms of its GDP. The wealthy, the elite and the super-rich are doing extremely well while workers are struggling, but there is only so much inequality any society can take. There are pressure points and fault lines and it is imperative this Government introduces a living wage as soon as possible.

Ireland is not just a rip-off Republic, it is also a Republic of low pay. More than 370,000 workers in this country are regarded as low paid. Sometimes the Government likes to repeat the Thatcherite mantra that work is the way out of poverty, but for one in five of those in work it certainly is not because they are still living below the poverty line in what is the fifth richest country in the world per capita. A majority of hospitality workers are low paid, while one third of workers in retail, food production, administration and entertainment are officially low paid. These are the essential workers for whom the Government clapped during the pandemic. These are the workers stocking the shelves and keeping shops open and running the pubs and restaurants that were missed so much when they were closed. These are also the workers in arts and entertainment who have had such a difficult few years but all they have to return to now is low pay. These workers deserve a raise.

It is time to outlaw poverty pay by raising the minimum wage to a living wage for all. We need to fight for a minimum wage of €15 an hour so that no worker is left in poverty. We must also get rid of the various loopholes and exemptions that bosses make use of to get around paying the minimum wage. It is outrageous that young workers in this country can be paid as little as €7.35 per hour. There are 10,000 young workers in this country earning less than the minimum wage legally as bosses push a race to the bottom that is bad for all workers. The Government allows this because it seems to think young people are just working to earn some extra pocket money for the weekend when many are trying desperately to cover bills, move out on their own or contribute to their family. They should not be discriminated against on the basis of their age and they should not be paid a poverty wage. That is why I brought forward the National Minimum Wage (Equal Pay for Young Workers) Bill to end that discrimination once and for all.

Finally, this is obviously one side of the cost-of-living crisis, with bills going up and wages remaining stagnant. We need a revolt in this country to demand action on the cost of living, including fighting for pay increases. We need to build a movement of ordinary people. We need to get out on the streets to tackle the profiteering of energy companies, the low pay and the poverty rates of social welfare payments. I am putting the Government on notice that a cost-of-living coalition is being built to bring people out onto the streets, starting next Thursday at lunchtime outside the Dáil and building to a major national demonstration on 18 June.

"The pay could be better ... the pay is not the best ... the pay may be lower than you expect". Even positive comments posted in April and May on glassdoor.ie by Starbucks and ex-Starbucks workers criticised the low pay. Starbucks pays a bit above the minimum wage but significantly less than the living wage. It has 70 coffee shops in the Republic of Ireland, which is more per head of population than in any other country in Europe. All of the shops are licensed out to Entertainment Enterprises, the same company that runs TGI Friday. This company had an annual turnover in this State last year of €22.5 million, which represents a lot of cups of coffee. Internationally, it made profits of $15.8 billion in 2020 alone.

For those workers who left the comments on glassdoor.ie, there is some hope if they look to what is happening in the USA. Last December workers at Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, voted to join the Starbucks workers' union. Votes to organise a union were won in ten of the next 11 coffee house ballots and plans are under way to organise all 170,000 Starbucks workers in the USA. A feature of this campaign is that it has been led by the young workers in the coffee shops themselves rather than by paid union officials. I would love to see Starbucks workers organise here to tackle low pay. I would also love to see a campaign for a national minimum wage of €15 per hour, vitally necessary now for young workers in particular given the deadly combination of low pay and sky-high rents. I would love to see this not just for Starbucks but for other low-paid workers too. Amazon workers, for instance, have recently organised in the USA also. Any young worker interested in help or advice on these issues can feel free to contact my offices at any time.

A new living wage rate has been set at €12.90 per hour. This is the basic amount found to be necessary to cover workers' needs. This is €2.40 above the minimum wage of €10.50 per hour. This higher rate is due to hikes in rent, transport and energy costs. Rents are increasing daily and it is nearly impossible to find a rental property in some areas. In my own town of Dundalk, a three-bedroom house now costs a minimum of €1,600 per month. In the last 12 months alone, the cost of transport has rocketed. This time last year one could buy diesel for €1.05 per litre but now it costs over €2. Energy costs are going through the roof. People are spending hundreds, if not thousands, extra per year on energy.

According to Dr. Micheál Collins, UCD lecturer and member of the Living Wage Technical Group, a full-time worker on the minimum wage would be €105 per week short of what is needed to meet the costs of a basic but decent standard of living. A living wage would enable a worker to save €10 per week, have a holiday in Ireland for three days a year, have a social outing at least once a month, have a decent diet and buy one newspaper per week.

I do not think that is too much to ask for. It has also been estimated that one in five people are on the minimum wage. People must earn a living and many go without a lot of things, which is totally and utterly wrong.

Last year, I was here when the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment asked the Low Pay Commission to examine and make recommendations on the best supports that would establish a living wage in Ireland. He has received the report and is expected to bring it to Government before the summer recess. I think he should do that sooner rather than later.

Let us consider that, on an almost daily basis, the price of food, clothing, healthcare, household goods, education, transport and energy has increased. Basically, the price of everything has increased. We all must either pay a mortgage or rent and pay our bills for such things as credit cards, utilities, insurance and phones. The cost of living in Ireland increased by 4.2% during the pandemic and inflation now runs at 5.5%, which is the highest rate since 2001. The rising costs of living puts pressure on everybody, particularly the low paid. The Minister of State and I know from living in our constituencies and being close to the ground that some families must choose between putting on their heating or eating.

The living wage rate is currently voluntary so it is not compulsory for employers to pay their workers a living wage. Some companies pay a living wage such as Ikea, Aldi, Lidl and SSE Airtricity. I commend the companies that are willing to pay their employees a minimum wage. The difference between the minimum wage and a cost-of-living wage is a massive 18.6%. I am a former employer and I know that if one pays a decent wage one easily gets that back.

The former Nobel Prize winner, Professor David Card, has demonstrated that there is no evidence to support claims that a rise in the minimum wage would cost jobs. The benefits of paying a living wage will help everybody. For example, last week I spoke about people who receive the housing assistance payment, HAP. A lot of the people who do not get a minimum wage will end up seeking social welfare.

In conclusion, I plead with the Minister of State to ask the Tánaiste to come back in here and give us the information that the commission gave.

As of December 2021, Social Justice Ireland recorded that there were 661,000 people in this State who are trapped in poverty and more than 210,000 of these people are children. It is scandal in our time that we have hundreds of thousands of children being born into poverty and living their youth in poverty. What that means for each one of those children is that they will have radically reduced opportunities and health in their lives. Most likely they will have a reduced life expectancy as a result. One of the forming documents of this State is the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, which very clearly states that we, as a country, must "cherish all the children of the nation equally". The figures show that this State is absolutely failing those individuals.

Right now, there is a confluence of crises between Covid, the climate crisis and the Ukrainian crisis. Lost in all of that is a whole generation of Irish people who are suffering radically from poverty. One of the major causes of that poverty is income inequality and the figures are incredible. Over 133,000 people are trapped in poverty while working.

It is morally wrong to ask anybody to work 40 hours a week, to do their best and to give their labour and energy to an employer for 40 hours a week, and then to give them a wage that does not allow them to pay for the key needs of their lives. It is absolutely wrong that a person works full-time yet gets a wage that does not cover the cost of housing, health, education and food. In truth, it smacks as a form of slavery in our time that we ask people to work such a length of time yet force them into poverty and debt. It is not happening by accident. It is happening because of the economic system that has been built in this country.

A recent study by the Economic and Social Research Institute, which examined the distribution of income in the State, found that 36% of households reported an income of less than €15,000 a year. So a third of the households in this State have an income of less than €15,000. The outcome of this can be seen as 9,800 people are homeless currently, which is a 23% increase on the figure for 2021. Last year 115 homeless people in Dublin died on the streets. When we ask how many people died on the streets of the other towns and cities, the Government gives a shrug because it does not know as it does not collect those figures. We do not even record the number of people who are dying on the streets due to homelessness in the other towns and other cities. Yet, parallel to this experience we have a concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands at the upper end of the income spectrum. So the rich are definitely getting richer while the poor suffer such levels of poverty. It is due to a lack of proper payment and wages for people and due to a taxation system that allows for wealth to migrate continuously to the most wealthy.

My final point is that the Government is leading the way in this. The differentials in salary in the Civil Service is an example of all that is wrong. The wages that Robert Watt and Paul Reid get are multiples of what those at the lower end of the Civil Service experience. The Government itself is leading the way to wealth inequality where it is the employer.

Next we have, for the Rural Independent Group, Deputy Michael Collins.

I am glad to get a chance to speak on the Living Wage Bill.

I am delighted to see the Labour Party worry so much about workers, the same party that hurt so many workers and women's pensions while in government. The Irish economy is at risk of being dragged into a "wage-price spiral" if workers begin demanding higher wages to match the current cost-of-living increases, according to a new warning from the Government funded Economic and Social Research Institute.

There is the already high cost of doing business in Ireland, the added risk of inflation, energy prices and the crippling levels of bureaucracy and red tape that emanate from the Government on an almost daily basis. An almost voiceless small business sector faces a gigantic crisis once the business support schemes are withdrawn in December 2022. The impact of all this will place enormous pressure on hundreds if not thousands of small businesses all across the country but especially in rural Ireland. It is important also to note that 92% of all small and medium-sized businesses in Ireland are characterised as micro businesses as they employ fewer than ten people and they represent the lifeblood of rural and regional Ireland. In fact, without them in rural areas there would be little to no employment available.

The Government's proposals to introduce well-intentioned initiatives on sick pay, pensions and a living wage, which is also the objective of this Bill, may well completely miss the point. I say that because these measures are arguably a very poor substitute for the more crucial policy goal of providing affordable levels of the most important cost of all, namely, accommodation. Many families now spend 40% or more of their disposable income on rent or a mortgage.

The Living Wage Bill is very important. It would be a great Bill if we saw anybody proposing it who was not so hypocritical. A person speaking to this Bill obviously has to look at who is proposing it. One must remember what this same party did when it was in power and had a say. We know what they did to older people. We know the way that they hit and hurt people who were bereaved by doing away with and supporting the abolition of the death grant. We know and saw what they did to women's pensions in particular. We saw the total disregard they had for vulnerable and poorer people. We were very proud in County Kerry of the great Labour Party in the past because we had good people in it and supporting it. The reason that they have completely abandoned that party now is due to the hypocritical Bills like this it is bringing forward, forgetting what the party did to hurt the people that they talk about protecting now.

I accept there is an awful problem in Ireland at present. That problem is being worsened by people in the Labour Party supporting additional taxes upon taxes and penalties on people who are vulnerable and finding it very hard to manage mom's purse. They are completely forgetting it, but I will not let them forget what they did when they had power and when they were Ministers. When they had a say, they did nothing for the people of Ireland and definitely nothing for rural areas.

I add my voice to this debate today. The Bill is well meaning and it is lovely when they are in opposition, but when Labour Party Members had a chance in government, what did they do? They attacked the very weakest with what they did with the women's pension and the death grant. They were supposed to be representing the working people but they did nothing. That being said, we have a new poor, the working poor, and it is very difficult for them. None of the legislation we are passing here is poverty proofed. It is impacting greatly on those on lower incomes.

The policies of this Government and the previous Government, but especially this one, are putting punitive penalties on top of ordinary people who cannot afford them. The Government seems to be blindfolded and aghast. It is getting support from many of the so-called left-wing parties. I am talking about carbon tax and many other areas. They are blindly doing this for the sake of the Minister, Deputy Ryan. They want us to believe climate change. We are not denying it.

The people cannot live. They have a choice between eating or heating their houses. They cannot drive a car; they do not even have a car. We must think of the small business people who also deserve a chance to be supported and not to be strangled with legislation. There is no impact analysis whatsoever of the likely impact on small self-employed people who want to give jobs to people. They want to look after their employees, and the vast majority of them do.

Inflation has now reached 6.9% and it is predicted to go to 8.5%. If Labour Party Members understood business, they would understand that a wage rise now would increase inflation, putting people further into poverty. We need to reduce the cost of living to stop inflation. How do we reduce the cost of living? We reduce electricity costs and fuel costs. SMEs at the moment find it hard enough to keep going with the escalating prices. Who are the only winners up at the moment with inflation? It is the Government. Who are now trying to get the Government to earn more money? When wages increase, the tax also increases. Who gets the tax? It is the Government. What does it do? It wants to put businesses, which are already struggling with the highest insurance and other running costs in Europe, out of business.

The Labour Party Members should have been concentrating today on reducing inflation by reducing the taxes the Government is taking. We have already said it is taking €57 for every €100 of fuel sold. They want to raise wages so that the Government can take more in tax from people who are already struggling. That is because they do not understand business. Businesses employ people allowing them to put food on the table for their families. The Government needs to reduce VAT and other tax rates to make sure people in this country can live and we are not driving up inflation. However, we should be driving down the taxes the Government is taking from every person in this country.

I am glad to get the opportunity to talk on this very important matter today. It is gas to see Labour Party Members try to make amends after the harm they did when they were in government and were in power. I know better than anyone else that people's wages do not go far enough now because of the cost of everything, including the cost of travelling to work. In Kerry, people need to travel to work. There are no buses or public transport from places like Gneeveguilla, Lauragh or Cahersiveen. In the hinterlands of those great places there is no public transport. However, those people are paying carbon tax to reduce bus fares in this city.

I support the thrust of the Bill, but employers are also in the mix. Nobody here is helping employers - putting every regulation in the world on them and putting every increase in their way by the way of carbon tax, which the Labour Party and all Government parties have supported in every motion in this Dáil Chamber. The Government and Opposition combined are hurting the working man and they are consistently doing that by hurting employers as well.

When the national minimum wage was introduced more than 20 years ago at a rate of €5.58 per hour, it was seen as a step forward in tackling the issue of low pay in the Irish economy. The intention was to set a floor, with workers being able to secure wages above the low basic rate. However, the minimum wage, rather than acting as a floor, has become the norm in certain sectors of the economy, particularly in hospitality and retail. Rather than reducing low pay, it has in fact consolidated low pay which now affects one in four workers and especially affects women. This situation is not unique to the economy here. It is the consequence of an international drive by capitalists to reduce wages, reduce job security and reduce unionisation and workers' rights in the workplace.

I support the Bill but we need to be quite clear that legislation on its own will not solve the problem. It must be seen as a means to an end by a revitalised labour movement. Low pay is often accompanied by precarious work contracts and abusive practices by certain employers, a lack of respect for employees and denial of basic rights, even when they are enshrined in law. Employers not being obliged to negotiate with a union is a denial of the very basic right of workers to engage with their employer, not as individuals but on a collective basis. We also need legislation to allow unions access to their members in the workplace. At present, I am preparing a Bill to make employers give all relevant information to a union where members are having their union dues deducted by an employer. Some employers are refusing information as part of a union-busting strategy.

While supporting the Bill, I believe much more is needed. Those parties that describe themselves as being on the left should come together with the trade union movement to fight for progressive pro-worker legislation and, just as important, to launch a national campaign to reverse the slide in union membership in the private sector, to fight for what I consider to be a living wage of €15 an hour, and to appeal in particular to young workers, women workers and anyone else affected by low pay, precarious contracts and workplace abuse to join a union, get organised and fight for the respect they deserve as a key force in the economy and delivering public services. The pandemic demonstrated that workers who are often overlooked and undervalued are key to a healthy and successful society.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. As I have long been calling for review of the national hourly rate for employees, I am glad to see this Bill before the House today. We need to ensure the minimum wage in this country represents a living income, and at the very least the minimum wage should be brought in line with the living wage. We need to ensure adequate income and enable people to afford an acceptable standard of living.

The cost-of-living crisis has affected everyone in the country, but among those most affected are workers on the minimum wage. With the continual rise in prices, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get by on a living wage, never mind the minimum wage, which is much lower. We cannot expect people to continue to pay significantly more for everything while getting paid exactly the same wage. If workers' wages are not increased to reflect the cost-of-living increases, they are effectively taking a pay cut. I hope employers will reflect on this fact.

I also call on the Houses of the Oireachtas to reflect on this as our secretarial assistants continue to fight for their pay claim. Oireachtas staff are essential to the democratic process in this country and it is shameful they are forced continually to ask for a decent wage.

In my home town of Killybegs in Donegal, we are just at the beginning of our busy summer season when many tourists throughout the county and throughout the world come to visit our seaside town and the breathtaking Slieve League cliffs nearby.

It is a season that would not be possible without the many tourism and hospitality workers who are mostly on minimum wage incomes. The raising of the minimum wage would have a huge effect on towns along the Wild Atlantic Way, like Killybegs, where minimum wage workers are so heavily relied on. Ensuring those employed in rural Ireland are paid well is an important way to ensure people stay in rural areas, which would then contribute to rejuvenating town centres as well. We often forget that the enjoyment we get from the tourism and hospitality sector would not be possible without the many workers who hold this industry up. They do incredible work and contribute hugely to our tourism industry. They deserve to be recognised and compensated for this. Unfortunately, many employers do not recognise the value of a workforce in making their business sustainable and allowing it to grow in future. They think their business, just by the sake of them having it, should be enough whereas it is the workers who actually make a business work.

Inflation is surging to a 22-year high and the cost of housing, fuel and basic services is rising. How can we expect people on the minimum wage to keep up with these continuous rises? People are not asking for much; they are just asking to get by.

Overall, I support this Bill. It is a necessary first step to ensuring people are paid fairly. However, it does not go far enough. In the Bill, the Labour Party proposes to increase the minimum wage from €10.50 to €12.90 over three years. Due to the cost-of-living crisis we currently face, urgency is required. The minimum wage should be increased to €12.90 immediately and then we should look at raising it to €15 over the next three years. That would more adequately reflect the high cost of living in Ireland today. It would benefit employers to pay the minimum wage as well because many of their customers in rural Ireland are on the minimum wage too. If employers pay a higher minimum wage and their customers are getting extra money, there is more money for everybody to spend in the economy and that is important as well.

People in this country should not be struggling to get by. Our own staff should not be fighting for a living wage. It is time we started treating the people with the dignity and respect they deserve. We can start by ensuring everyone is paid a decent wage that would allow them the opportunity to live a decent life.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate and acknowledge the work of the Labour Party in bringing forward this Bill. The timing of this discussion could not be more appropriate in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation. I welcome also the Government's commitment to move from a minimum wage policy to a higher living wage that is designed to take into account the proper cost of living. This Bill is broadly in line with these objectives.

The Low Pay Commission, which was set up by a Fine Gael-led Government in 2015, was asked by the Tánaiste last year to commission a team of researchers from Maynooth University to conduct a technical review of the living wage. We in Fine Gael are serious about tackling low pay. In March the Tánaiste received the report of the Low Pay Commission and, along with officials from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, is currently examining the report on how to move forward towards a living wage. The next steps involve the publication of the commission’s report and the accompanying research report. I heard that consultation on the implementation of the commission’s recommendations is currently under way. That is a hugely important step forward.

In introducing the living wage, it is widely accepted that the impact on small and local businesses must be considered. As a result, a phased approach to reaching the hourly rate is the most likely one, in line with best practices. The living wage might sound like an additional challenge for employers but there are widely accepted benefits to adopting a policy like this. Better wages mean more money for employees to spend in their community which stimulates the economy and makes it easier for businesses to thrive. Better wages also mean greater employee satisfaction, improved job retention and staff who are more dedicated to being part of a team. Employers can also expect increased productivity. I therefore welcome this policy on the living wage.

Like Deputy Dillon, I fully support the principle of the legislation that we progress to a living wage over the lifetime of this Government. That is at the very heart of Government policy. It is clear that all Members of the House feel the exponential increase in the cost of energy, the increase in the cost of living and the pressure on families in our dealings with the public in our constituencies every week. The Government is very much aware and conscious of that. In this debate, Opposition Deputies have commented that the minimum wage is less than the living wage. Notwithstanding that, it has been increased eight times since Fine Gael came into office. That is a significant and important number of increases. It is never enough and is not enough now but it was increased to €10.50 in January. If the living wage is €12.90 now, then the Government is committed to delivering whatever that living wage is determined to be by the end of the time of the programme for Government.

Deputies also spoke as if there was no intervention from the State on subsidising petrol and diesel. The Government has spent significant money, and rightly so, on subsidising the cost of fuel. It has given a payment to homes towards the cost of electricity, which I am aware was a once-off, and has also reduced the cost of drugs. Indeed, this week the cost of public transport has been significantly reduced. I think it was reduced by 20%. There is, therefore, significant concern, awareness and action from the Government. With the decibels from some of the groups on the Opposition side, the louder they are the less sense they make. The reality is that this Government is committed to the living wage and to subsidising families, especially poorer families and those who have relied on fuel allowance.

I begin by thanking the Deputies for contributing to this Private Members' Bill on a living wage. I have been present for some of the debate and was following online before that. I thank Deputies for their contributions. The Bill the Labour Party has brought forward is timely in light of where we are with our own plans under the programme for Government. The Government, like many people in the House, believes a legacy of the pandemic must be better pay, terms and conditions for everyone but particularly those on low pay. As such, I recognise the Labour Party is now aligning with the Government in our commitment to progress a living wage over the lifetime of this Government. I am glad the Labour Party has joined us on this and that others contributed in a similar way in their speeches earlier.

The Minister of State, Deputy Troy, earlier detailed the well-functioning system we have in Ireland that has secured six consecutive increases in the minimum wage over the last six years and the second-highest national minimum wage in the EU. He also addressed the make-up of the Low Pay Commission and detailed how it is a fair and balanced body made up of an equal number of representatives with employee interests, employer interests, and independent voices as well. Therefore, its recommendations on how Ireland can best progress to a living wage should be fair and satisfactory to all sides involved.

Over the past hour we have heard much about how wages for those on low pay are insufficient. We have also heard how there needs to be greater increases in the national minimum wage to cover the cost of living. We have heard too of the pressure on businesses due to their increased costs over the last couple of years. Considering the standard way of measuring increases in the cost of living is by looking at the consumer price index measure of inflation, it is important to note that since the establishment of the Low Pay Commission in 2015, the national minimum wage has increased from €8.65 per hour to €10.50 in 2022. This equates to a 21.4% increase, and rightly so. It is something we all agree with. I recognise the Labour Party's involvement in that over those years as well. During the same time period, consumer prices have only increased by 7% in the six years to December 2021. Therefore, the national minimum wage has increased substantially in real terms over recent years, up to the end of last year. We are conscious of what has happened since then with costs and inflation as well. We are not content to settle for those earlier gains and will continue to work for better pay, terms and conditions and certainly to recognise the increases over the last couple of months but also where we are moving to over the last couple of years as well.

Rising energy prices have been one of a number of factors driving a rise in inflation since mid-2021. In February, the Government announced a €505 million suite of policy measures designed to support households, involving an energy credit of €200, including VAT, and a fuel allowance lump sum payment of €125. That was to go some way to try to deal with the pressures on the family budget over the last couple of months. While Members across the House are right to say that the increase in inflation in the last six months has reduced the impact of the increase in the minimum wage introduced this year, rising energy prices have been one of a number of factors driving a rise in inflation since mid-2021. In more recent times, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked further energy price increases and brought unprecedented volatility to international energy markets. That is feeding through to retail price increases for all households and businesses.

Once again, given that Ireland is a price taker on international energy markets, the Government has no statutory function in the monitoring or setting of these prices but we try to react with help and supports. The Government will keep the energy situation under close and active review and will continue to examine what measures are possible to manage the impact of rising energy prices for households and businesses and react accordingly. We will continue working with the European Commission to examine what else we can do to help to soften the blow to businesses and consumers, to keep costs down and to help people to manage their own budgets.

The Government is responding to this crisis and will continue to do so. However, given the extent to which these effects are being driven by developments outside of our control, it will not be possible to respond to every unfavourable price movement on global markets quickly enough to ease the pressure on people. It should also be borne in mind that some recent inflationary pressures are partly the result of temporary factors related to the pandemic and that these are expected to fade over time. If, as anticipated, inflation in future years is lower than it has been in recent months, tying the minimum wage to inflation would result in that wage moving to a lower development path rather than a higher one. We have to be careful about that.

Another point to note is that since the establishment of the Low Pay Commission in 2015, not only has the minimum wage increased at a much greater rate than inflation, but the share of workers on the minimum wage has also fallen consistently. The share of workers who are on the minimum wage or less as a percentage of the total labour market has reduced from 9.3% in the fourth quarter of 2016 to less than 7% in the fourth quarter of 2020. However, the Government acknowledges that there are far too many workers on low pay in Ireland and has been clear that this is something it intends to address as part of a wider series of reforms. Figures used today stated that 20% of people are on low wages. We accept those figures. Not all of these people are on the minimum wage, but they are on wages too low to allow them to pay all of their bills. We all want to work to improve that situation. The Low Pay Commission will continue to look into all areas of low pay including effects on employment and the impact of youth rates in addition to the ongoing work of examining a universal basic income.

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 last increase in the minimum wage in January, with many others on slightly higher levels of pay also getting a knock-on increase. Ireland has one of the highest minimum wages in the EU. Recently released data from EUROSTAT show that, as of 1 January 2022, 21 of 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, which is important, Ireland ranks in sixth place. We would like to do a little better than that if we can.

The living wage report is now under review. It has not yet been published but the Tánaiste has it and will bring it to the Cabinet shortly. We must await the recommendations of that report and examine how they align with the points raised in this Bill. However, as the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, has noted, this Bill is broadly in line with the objectives of the Government, which include a commitment to progress to a living wage over the lifetime of this Government's programme. We will therefore be able to continue to support it at the next Stage.

I am very proud to speak on this important legislation and to support it. I commend my colleague Deputy Nash, in particular, on his ongoing commitment to increasing the wages of those paid the least in our society and on his amazing work in government in the worst of times in establishing the Low Pay Commission and in bringing about increases of 20% in the minimum wage, something which has not been replicated since.

Ireland has a well-developed social support system and a highly progressive income tax system which is recognised as one of the most progressive in the OECD. We also have a reasonably well-developed social protection system that supports families whose household income is recognised as inadequate to meet their needs and to maintain basic acceptable standards of living. Those are policies and political decisions that the Labour Party has not only always supported, but which it has championed over the years. However, all of us in this House must address a much more fundamental question. Why is that level of social support required? The answer is straightforward, direct and simple. Too many Irish workers in full-time employment do not earn a wage sufficient to sustain an acceptable standard of living. That is a stark reality, a reality that is masked to some extent by the tax and social welfare policies that have been put in place. At its core, this is truly a basic question for the House and the Government to address. Is it acceptable to have an economic model where full-time work does not automatically mean a decent standard of living? That is the question. It is acceptable for all of us to preside over an economic model in which people working full-time, 39 or 40 hours a week, do not earn enough to sustain a decent standard of living? Is it acceptable to have a model under which it is okay for employers to pay a wage that does not allow workers to enjoy a standard of living we now regard as basic? That is the model we have built and the model I believe we must change.

The Bill before us sets out how to change that model. It sets a pay floor for decent wages. What is provided for in this Bill? It is not earth-shattering, as other Deputies have rightly said. We accept that. Simply put, it would put into law that persons working full-time jobs must be paid above a minimum acceptable income threshold. The Bill amends the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 to provide for a living wage to be the national minimum wage payable. It would mean that the minimum wage would, under law, be determined by the Low Pay Commission and that it would be a wage that, "if paid to a single adult person living alone and in full-time employment, would afford the person a standard of living that meets the physical, psychological and social needs of recipients at a minimum but socially acceptable level". That is not too much to ask. Right now, that rate is determined to be €12.90 an hour. As others have rightly said, that rate does not, of course, reflect the ongoing inflationary pressures that are real right now to every individual and household. The rate of pay would, as I have said, be earth-shattering, but it would be truly transformative for the tens of thousands of workers now earning nothing like a living wage. In crafting the Labour Party's submission to the Low Pay Commission consultation, which he submitted in March, Deputy Nash set out a path to achieve that. This is a basic and fundamentally important issue and it really is time to address it.

Ultimately, this is about decency. It is about giving people who are working full-time a wage upon which they can live. It is very simple. I was very interested in the Minister of State's closing remarks in which he said that the Government will not oppose the Bill, which is very welcome although it no longer really means much in this House. When the Minister of State and I first came in, that actually meant something, but there are now so many Bills sent off to never-never land that it does not really matter. I was more interested in how he concluded. He said that the report is with the Tánaiste, that it is being considered and that it will be published soon. I am paraphrasing the Minister of State but he said that this Bill was not a million miles away from the Government's thinking. I hope that is true because it is desperately needed given the current inflationary pressures. Furthermore and on top of that, it is needed quickly. Based on the Minister of State's honest summation at the end, I ask not only that the report be published and brought to the Cabinet, but also that it be acted on. If the Government is going to bring forward legislation similar to ours, we will not be precious about it. We will engage constructively on the basis of our beliefs, our legislation and what we have done. We will work with all of the partners involved, which, as the Minister of State knows, we always do, to move that forward and put it in place as quickly as possible and within a respectable timeframe. We support wage rises across the economy in line with inflation because profit margins are being protected while living standards simply are not. I will mention three other things. There must be negotiated pay rises for workers across society.

Those who say that should not happen are not living in the real world or are not being fair. Profits cannot just be protected while wages suffer. We must also change our laws to protect workers organising in the workplace to allow them to make the case to their employers for such pay rises and for better terms and conditions. We have a long way to go with that process, and this is something that is core to our party.

Regarding our submission to the Low Pay Commission, it is immoral how we, collectively, treat young people in the context of the wages we pay them. I am passionate about this. It is wrong to be paying 70%, 80% or 90% of the minimum wage to young people working in various service industries, especially in the hospitality sector. We must change this situation. Exploitation is going on out there and some people have been treated very badly. My colleagues and I know of many such cases. Perhaps this issue must be approached by looking at the minimum number of hours these young people can work versus the rate of pay. In a context where two people are working side by side, with a difference of a couple of years in their ages, it is no longer the case that these wages are pocket money. There should not be such a differential between how one person is paid because he or she is aged 17 or 18 and how someone else aged 21 or 22 is paid.

Returning to this legislation, we believe in a living wage, defined as meaning an annual wage that, in the opinion of the commission, if paid to a single adult person living alone and in full-time employment would afford him or her a standard of living that meets his or her physical, psychological and social needs. This Bill would transform the Low Pay Commission, which was introduced by my colleague Deputy Nash, into a living wage commission and provide the organisation with a timeline of three years to increase the minimum wage to a real living wage. This would be a living wage taking into account all costs, including those for groceries, rent, heating and all other forms of living expenses. It would be evidence-based and grounded in social consensus.

In principle, the living wage we are proposing - which I hope our colleagues will support, based on their comments so far - would be an income floor to ensure that people could live. Central to this Bill is the provision that the living wage must not be less than two thirds of annual median earnings, based on CSO statistics. I began by saying this is about decency. We cannot just say the way we are paying people is acceptable, given the inflationary pressures being experienced. We cannot camouflage everything just with social welfare and taxation. We must bring in the living wage. We will work with the Government, but time is of the essence.

Question put and agreed to.
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