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Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 984 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] To date, they have not been dealt with in the context of people's capacity to afford to buy homes. The Taoiseach might indicate the progress that has been made in terms of the affordable homes scheme.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I call on the Taoiseach to respond. We have exceeded the time. We cannot continue like this.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I will ensure that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, provides the Deputy with an update on the affordable homes scheme.

Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary The Minister will be providing one for himself first.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar As the Deputy will be aware, the scheme is going towards a shared equity model. We will provide the Deputy with more information on that.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Has the Taoiseach not had it?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I am advised that the level of home ownership fell faster under Fianna Fáil than it has under the current Government. It is worth referring to that point. We really should not forget from where we are coming. We should not forget what happened ten to 12 years ago on Fianna Fáil's watch. When Deputy Micheál Martin's party was in office, we had a boom-and-bust cycle in construction. As a result, the industry was totally destroyed and hundreds of thousands of workers left their jobs and had to emigrate.

Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin Eight years later.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae That was a long time ago. We do not need a history lesson.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The banking sector collapsed and was unable to lend people mortgages for a prolonged period.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The banks still are not working.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar We had, on Fianna Fáil's watch, ghost estates, Priory Hall, problems with mica, hundreds of thousands of people in negative equity-----

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley Fine Gael builders.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar -----and hundreds of thousands of others in mortgage arrears. Deputy Micheál Martin is not in a position to lecture or advise anyone on housing.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae Fine Gael was asking them to spend more at the time.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne Let us think of the children.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Please.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae What was Fine Gael doing at the time?

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne Not a word about the children.

(Interruptions).

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher There has to be some order. If there is, Deputies may get an opportunity to contribute..

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne The Taoiseach does not care about the children.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley It is all just politics. There is nothing about the children. Suffer little children.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher If they are orderly, they might have a better chance of getting it.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae He must remember that he is the Taoiseach.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald The living wage technical group published its assessment of the living wage for 2019 this morning and its report makes for a sobering read. They have found that the living wage - the rate of pay that a full-time worker requires in order to enjoy a socially acceptable standard of living, in other words, an income floor of such a level as to allow him or her not to live the high life but, rather, a decent one - has risen to €12.30 an hour. The increase is of the magnitude of 40 cent per hour and is largely accounted for by increases in the cost of living in particular and in the cost of housing and, more especially, because of runaway rental costs. The Taoiseach will be aware that the living wage - now set at €12.30 - is considerably more than the minimum wage in this State which stands at €9.80 an hour. The gap between the two is sizeable. Workers deserve to be treated fairly and paid fairly for their work. People who are at work have every right to expect that they can have a decent standard of living. As a result, it is not acceptable that tens of thousands of workers and their families endure poverty, uncertainty, stress and substandard living conditions as a result of low pay. We are not talking about a small number of people. According to the most recent figures from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, 140,000 individuals are in receipt of the minimum wage. The majority of those 140,000 are women, and the vast majority of them work in the services sector.

There is also another big group of people who earn just above the minimum wage. Their income lies between the minimum wage and what the living wage ought to be. All of these are hardworking people. They are childcare workers, members of the Defence Forces, hospitality workers and shop assistants. They are people with whom we interact and on whom we rely on a daily basis. The situation of poverty at work in which they find themselves is simply not acceptable. We need to start moving to ensure that all workers in the public and private sectors are paid the living wage.

The State should lead from the front on this matter and the Taoiseach should introduce the living wage for all civil and public servants. The latter has been a pre-budget proposal from Sinn Féin for many years. Last year, it would have cost just in excess of €35 million, as per costings provided to us by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. This is a minor and modest sum in the greater scheme of things, particularly when one considers the benefits that it would bring to workers and their families. Will the Taoiseach move to ensure that the State is a living wage employer in the next budget? When will the Government legislate for the living wage? When will it legislate and ensure that workers can enjoy a wage that will afford them a decent basic standard of living?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I call on the Taoiseach to respond.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald We are well behind the curve. Often one hears tributes to and, on occasion, one sees people shed crocodile tears for low-paid workers.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I call on the Taoiseach to respond to the Deputy's question.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald These workers do not need not soft words, honey-coated words or tributes, they need to earn at least the living wage.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The answer to Deputy McDonald's question is "No". We negotiate public sector pay with the trade unions. That is done under the terms of pay deals that happen periodically and that do not require legislation. We have a pay deal with the public service trade unions. When that comes to an end, I imagine that we will have another pay deal with the public service unions. That is how we decide on pay levels within the public service.

The living wage, as the Deputy will be aware, exists in the United Kingdom. It exists in Northern Ireland where Deputy McDonald's party was in power for ten years. The living wage in the United Kingdom is actually lower than the minimum wage in Ireland. I would not like there to be a living wage that is lower than our national minimum wage.

Deputy John Brady: Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady That says much about the State and the cost of living.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The national minimum wage is calculated by the Low Pay Commission, taking into account the views of workers and unions and also employers in the business sector. It is now the second highest in the European Union. Far from being behind the curve, we are well ahead of it. We have the second highest national minimum wage in the European Union. Even when one accounts for the fact that we have a high cost of living, we still have the sixth highest minimum wage in the world. We are well ahead of the curve, not behind it.

The living wage to which Deputy McDonald refers is drawn up based on research by NGOs without any input from employers and business. The Vincentian Partnership for Justice does good work. I have studied much of its work over the years. I studied it when I served as Minister for Social Protection. One of the interesting aspects of its research is that were it not for housing costs or rental costs, it would be proposing a reduction in the living wage because they state that the cost of living, other than that part of it relating to housing, has decreased in the past five years. The research assumes that everyone is paying rent. Of course, most people do not pay rent. Most people pay mortgages or own their own homes outright. In many cases, those who are on the minimum wage are students or those who are bringing a second income into their homes. That also needs to be taken into account.

The Low Pay Commission, the Government body that draws up the national minimum wage, takes into account the need to ensure that people get a decent wage. However, it also takes into account the views of businesses and employers. That needs to happen as we do not want a situation whereby businesses close. Those in the Border region would be the ones most at risk in this regard given the much lower living wage that exists in Northern Ireland. We do not want to end up in a situation where workers lose their jobs or lose hours, thereby end up worse off. That is why we have a system that works. It is headed up by the Low Pay Commission, established by the Fine Gael-Labour Government, and it takes into account the bigger picture and the need for people to get decent wages. It listens to employers and unions and recommends an increase every year that will push up wages but that will not cost jobs or cause workers to lose hours and thereby ending up worse off.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald The Low Pay Commission should be looking at a living wage, not the minimum wage. The Taoiseach is wrong to state that those on the minimum wage are simply people who are working for pin money or to earn supplementary incomes. Almost half of those on the minimum wage are full-time workers. The minimum wage stands at €9.80 per hour. Everyone here, including the Taoiseach, earns multiples of that.

At least the Taoiseach gave a straight answer. He said "No" and indicated that he is not interested in improving the living standards and the quality of life of low-paid workers. What is proposed here is not a ransom, it is not a fortune. It is €12.30 an hour. The State ought to lead by example. It should be a matter of shame that the State has in its employment public servants and some civil servants who work for less than that. Shame on the Government. No wonder he is dragging his heels in respect of the soldiers, those who work in the Naval Service and the Defence Forces. As the Taoiseach just acknowledged, he does not care and the answer is "No".

Legislation for a living wage would make provision for the health and financial circumstances of business.


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