The controversy over the report conducted by Kevin Duffy, and Dr Frank Walsh of CUD and which was published by the government into the operation of JLCs and ERO has the mild whiff of a whipped up storm. Just for whose consumption would be an interesting question to ask. The report that has been published was originally commissioned by Mary Hanifin in the dying days of the last government.
Most of those commenting won’t have read the document, I’ve barely skimmed it myself. What is very much noteworthy for the fact that it is uncommented on is what hasn’t been suggested, is that there is no suggestion of abandoning the JLCs, or of reducing the standard hourly rates paid to people, either in the report or from the minister. Instead there is some mention of looking at other means of compensating people for working awkward hours and weekend work. So how did all this outrage burst into life without a single attributable sentence to hang it all on?
The reaction appears to say “How dare someone say that they want to see discussion on something without excluding all but the most uncontentious items”, and worse yet that there might be some expectation that such discussions to take place within a relatively short time frame. Imagine that, a minister puts forward proposals for consideration and discussion before then intending to bring the matter back for refinement before taking it to cabinet for their collective decision. What kind of autocracy is this?
The crowing has been long and hard that this is all due to the evil intent of the minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation. I happen to know Richard Bruton somewhat and from my experience of the man his priority would be that we keep as many people in employment as we can and that they be paid as well as they can be for the work that they do.
The primary argument is that affects the lowest paid (ignoring the contradiction that the lowest paid are actually those who are on the minimum wage, a fact given away by the use of the word ‘minimum’). Those covered by the JLC range from some quite low paid (but not the lowest paid) to some who are quite well paid. In fact the acronym soup of the JLCs, REA, ERO cover a range of pay scales from hotel workers on €9.09 to newly qualified electricians who must be paid 20.74 per hour. A sample of the rates are below
Construction Craftsmen 18.60 euro
Electrician (Newly Qualified) 20.74 euro
Hotel Worker (trained) €354.43 a week (outside Dublin and Cork)
Security Worker (first job) €9.27 an hour
Agricultural Worker experienced >€345.93 a week
And there is more detail here. It is interesting to consider that a new minted electrician who will have been paid a certain amount during the time of their apprenticeship (not a lot mind but something at least) must be paid a certain amount once they start full time work while a newly minted electronic engineer who has gone the 3rd level route gets paid only whatever the market will bear while having not gotten any money for their period learning about their area. So much for encouraging the knowledge economy. But that’s a discussion for another time.
Part of the problem with the functioning of the JLC regime is that once we had a minimum wage and once it started to increase those in the JLC and ERO etc arena wanted their incomes to increase too. This is not an argument that we should have not had a minimum wage or that we should be reducing it down. Rather it is an argument that other salaries should not be automatically linked to the minimum wage and if it rises then they don’t need to. This was a core problem with the old time dance of Gardai, teachers and nurses in that there was some self perceived and self sustaining hierarchy, and so if nurses agreed to change how they worked leading to greater productivity then the Gardai and the teachers wanted the same increases without conceding any productivity measures at all in order to preserve the hierarchy of relative pay scales. And so it all went around in cycles as the years past until it was supposedly knocked on the head by benchmarking.
The fact is the detail of the report is not being discussed, instead it is presented as if everyone covered by JLC is on the minimum wage. They’re not, some of them are still quite low paid but it has echoes of what happens when you try to take about public sector pay rates, immediately the cannon fodder of the low paid civil servant is wheeled out so that no one cn about the other elements in the public service who are well paid. The union leaders for the low paid are complicit in this in that their own pay is linked to the higher paid elements not their own lower paid members. One of the reasons we have less to pay the lower paid members of the public sector is that the higher ups are paid too much. Just as one of the reasons that the cost of living in Ireland is so high and means that 400 per week is seen as barely a living wage is in part because some of the salaries covered by the JLCs are set are unrealistic levels meaning the costs associated with those services, electricians etc, are too high.
Many of the smaller operators in the service sector, in particular the tourist end of things are barely tipping over. Small cafes, and shops in out of the way places. The business world, unlikely the fantasy world of the left, where every employer is a loaded fat cat, is made up of a spectrum of operators, those who are coining it in and who would move the hands of the clock on the QT if it meant they could get an extra 15 minutes of free labour and then there are those who are just getting by, taking less out of the business than some of their employee just so they can keep a business that they have invested their lives in going. Making demons of all business owners as exploiters of the workers is no more accurate or helpful than those on the IBEC side of things who thinking of an employee as a upright work-shy sloth who wouldn’t do a decent day’s work if you paid them.
We need more blue-sky thinking in Irish politics and starting any discussion on what we might be able to do to keep businesses open and people in jobs by closing off any and all areas of discussion before a word has been uttered will get us nowhere.