We now move to the initiation of Private Members' Bills. I remind the Members concerned that under the revised Standing Orders adopted by the Dáil on 17 October, they are entitled to make a brief statement not exceeding five minutes when seeking leave to introduce their Bill.
Protection of Minimum Wage Earners Bill 2013: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Finance Act of 2011 by raising the current income thresholds of persons liable for payment of the universal social charge.
That is the Long Title of the Bill, whereas the Short Title is the Protection of Minimum Wage Earners 2013 Bill.
As the Taoiseach will be well aware, the universal social charge, which was introduced in a panic by an incompetent Fianna Fáil-led Government, was a very blunt instrument which placed a considerable burden on ordinary working people. One of the most unfair features of the measure was its impact on low earners. As I have stated previously, the current Government has lifted this burden from a substantial number of people on low incomes. It has not gone far enough, however, and this legislation would go further by removing the requirement to pay the universal social charge from all those earning below the minimum wage.
The minimum wage is exactly as described - in other words, the bare minimum a worker earns. Including minimum wage earners in the universal social charge net is unfair and undermines the concept of the minimum wage. If this Bill were passed, it would remove the burden of paying the universal social charge from the shoulders of 296,000 workers. The measure would cost €94 million to implement in the first year. The money saved by those on the minimum wage would then be used to invest in the domestic economy, because those on low incomes, including workers earning the minimum wage, spend more of their income proportionally in the real economy.
This is a progressive and positive measure which would stimulate the economy while creating a fairer taxation system. The proposal stems from Sinn Féin's alternative budget, which we published in advance of budget 2014. I note again that we are the only Opposition party to produce an alternative budget that has been fully costed by the Department of Finance. Our proposal highlights that alternatives are available, even within the confines of the troika programme and the restrictions it imposes. Sinn Féin's budget proposal would reduce the tax burden on ordinary families, while also protecting jobs and public services. Our alternative budget contains many options for recouping the €94 million cost of lifting this burden from the shoulders of 296,000 minimum wage earners.
The deficit needs to be closed. Sinn Féin has shown in its alternative budget that this can be done fairly through measures such as that proposed in the Bill. Our budget adjustment was more or less identical to that introduced by the Government, the difference being that the Government's budget failed the fairness test. Removing minimum wage earners from the universal social charge would be a positive move that would be very much welcomed by the 296,000 people who are burdened by the charge. It would also start to unravel the disastrous policies pursued by the Fianna Fáil Party in government.
This week, the House will discuss the Finance Bill, which, with the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill, will bring more misery and hit persons on lower incomes disproportionately hard. The track record of this Government has been to introduce measures under which the brunt of budget adjustments falls on the lowest income earners. The constant austerity to which the Government remains wedded has damaged the economy and is not working. Today, for example, the European Commission again lowered its growth forecast for Ireland.
I note the Minister for Justice and Equality is either tweeting or texting. I hope some of my comments are sinking in because his Government's austerity programme is simply not working and its budgets have made life harder for ordinary people. The Government's forecasts for growth are being constantly revised downwards and they fail to make the link between these downward revisions and its policy of attacking lower income earners by imposing additional cuts and taxes, whether increases in direct taxation or new indirect taxes such as the property tax and the water tax that will be introduced from next year onwards.
We must not accept that the universal social charge is here to stay, especially for those who earn below the minimum wage. I commend the Government again on removing more than 300,000 people from the scope of the universal social charge and restoring the minimum wage to the level at which it stood before the previous Administration reduced it. In doing so, I acknowledge that the Government has undone some of the damage done by previous Fianna Fáil Government to those on the lowest incomes. It has not yet finished the job, however, because this would necessitate removing the remaining 296,000 people who earn the minimum wage from the universal social charge net. I commend the Bill to the House.
Is the Bill being opposed?
We do not object to the taking of the Bill.
Since this a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.
I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."