JLC’s, EROs, REAs and ELO

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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.

Remember in some area where jobs are being lost and businesses are losing money the wages set by the JLCs had gone up in the number of years just before the crash by more than the increases we have seen in the minimum wage. At least some of that increase was down to a desire to maintain a distance from those actually on the minimum wage  and also the scarcity of staff, a competition win for employees. Minor pedantic point but many from the Labour are talking about those working in JLC areas as being those on the very bottom. They’re not, those with no jobs at all are on the bottom income wise, next up are those on the actual minimum wage and then we have some of those working in areas covered by the JLC. Are they on the top? Certainly, not, but they are not the ones at the very bottom and over hyped claims that they are do them and the argument a disservice. They are in many cases amongst the lowest paid but why this true fact isn’t enough for some members of the Labour party I don’t know.
The problem is that getting wages increases in times of scarcity implies scope for reduction in times of plenty. What is sauce in times of plenty has the tendency to create a precedent for the slippage in the other direction to. Hence the insistence from employers that wages should head south in the bad times just as they headed north in the good.  Let’s face it when we’re competing in different areas like tourism against countries that have lower costs than we do, demanding that we have to maintain all forms sorts of premiums even if it means more job losses and business going bust. Now some business are in this for the free lunch that a broad undermining of collective bargaining would bring, but there are also business in despite need to reduce the cost of providing services especially at what would be the peak of the business. And we have some rather illogical arguments about the need for Sunday working at all.
The reality for many trying to get to work on a Sunday is that public transport is non existent in rural areas on a Sunday morning, child minding impossible. Many people still regard Sunday as a day of observance or a family day. There is a need to cover these expenses on the part of the employer.
I’m not sure what the good cllr knows about public transport in rural areas (he meant well have meant what us culchies would term suburban areas), but most people working during the week in rural areas wouldn’t dream of depending on the bus to get them to work. And the idea that most people regard Sunday as a day of observance or family is circularly undermined as if there were next to no one looking for any business to be done on Sunday hence there would be no desire or need for business to open or operate on Sunday or for anyone to come into work. Evidently there must be some activity on that day else why have people working? And as the public are no longer willing, if indeed they ever were, to pay a premium for getting a service on a Sunday, from where is the employer supposed to recoup the extra expense to cover these costs?

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.

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