Wage inequality is impoverishing workers globally, and around the world there is a fight back against low pay.
Workers in the US are campaigning for – and sometimes winning – a $15 per hour minimum wage, and there have been vibrant and powerful campaigns to make work pay in many other countries too. Ireland has joined international calls for a living wage that workers can live on. Civil society organisations, economic thinktanks have joined with trade unions to campaign for a ‘living wage’. It is a wage which makes possible a minimum acceptable standard of living.
Even the filthy rich are pointing out the implications of wage inequality. Few have missed Nick Hanauer’s letter to his fellow rich Americans warning “If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality.”
Speaking during a recent panel discussion, in Dublin, involving the different groups affected by low pay, Migrant Rights Centre Ireland Director Edel McGinley said:
“People doing the work that is essential to our society – growing and preparing our food, caring for our children and families – have barely enough to live on. Many migrant are concentrated in these sectors and raising the minimum wage would enable them to participate more fully in Irish life”.
President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, John Douglas also said:
“As we’ve heard today, a living wage for workers with secure hours of employment would bring benefits, not only to workers, but to the economy and to our society. It is up to all of us – trade unions, civil society groups, legislators and workers themselves – to work together to ensure that our economic recovery is wage-led and is constructed upon a foundation of decency for all members of our society”.
Suzanne Griffin of the National Women’s Council pointed out the gendered dimension of wage inequality:
“Over 60% of workers in low paid employment are women, and over a third of these women are in part time work…..working in increasingly precarious conditions. As a direct result of this, they become part of the statistics on rising poverty and deprivation.”
“The Living Wage is the new common sense” argues Michael Taft, researcher with Unite. “The majority of people would agree that a job should provide enough of a wage to meet basic needs. Raising wage floors benefits everyone in society through higher growth, increased employment and reduced poverty. The goal should be to ensure that by 2020 everyone who is working should earn a Living Wage. That is both a feasible and economically desirable goal”.
The minimum wage in the Republic of Ireland is currently €8.65. Campaigners are calling for a Living Wage of €11.45 based on a consensual budget system based on international norms developed by civil society groups. Households, in focus groups, who are actually affected by low incomes are asked what they need, not what they spend. All items are then priced by researchers, independently of the focus groups, over 2,000 from right across the country to get regional variations. The Living Wage is an hourly wage for a single person working for a forty hour week. This does not include children. A family wage is much greater than the and distorted by huge childcare costs which are socialised in many parts of the EU.
The Living Wage is a call emanating from rights enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights:
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” – UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights, 1948 Article 25
– The Living wage campaign is supported by The Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice (VPSJ) , Social Justice Ireland, The Nevin Economic Institute, TASC, SIPTU and Unite the Union
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