Dáil Diary no 46- 26 June 2015
Government's Neo Liberal position enshrines Lack of Fairness & Inequality...
This week we had a debate on the idea of a Low Pay Commission. At this stage, most people realise that an economic philosophy called Neo Liberalism, is the dominant approach among Western countries today. It’s a system which thinks that the interests of financial institutions and big business should be put before those of the citizens. It’s a way of thinking that caused one Irish Government to decide to bail out a failed Banking system, and another Government to insist that the Bondholders of the same banks should be paid in full. It is the system that is presently trying to pauperise Greece, which goes against all rational thinking.
In Ireland, we know now that Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour, are parties that have brought into the Neo Liberal philosophy. I believe that any ‘Independent; candidates running in the next election, should state in advance whether they would be prepared to go into Government with a Neo Liberal grouping – I for one, will walk from politics, before I would play any part in a Neo Liberal Government.
Here’s my Dáil contribution on the ‘Low Pay Commission’ debate -
“Ireland is the only EU15 country that has frozen the national minimum wage since 2007, which is eight years ago now. The idea of a Low Pay Commission is welcome, but I have the feeling that its recommendations are likely to be unimpressive and if the neoliberal agenda and austerity measures introduced by the last two Governments are not seriously scaled back, it will take more than a rise in the minimum wage to stop the march of rising inequality in Ireland. In the proposed Bill, it is stated that when making a recommendation on a national minimum hourly rate of pay, the effects of any proposed order on the cost of living will be taken into account – meaning that Government may keep the minimum wage low, in order to avoid any chance that the higher rate might drive the cost of living up. A form of reverse psychology. It is highly instructive as to the Government's framing of how the Low Pay Commission will work that there is no mention whatsoever in the Bill of taking into account the cost of living when making a determination as to what the new national minimum wage should be.
On top of this, the Government has done next to nothing to address the fact that we have one of the most inadequate universal public service systems in Europe, along with a cost of living that is 20% higher than the EU average. Instead of improving public services and investing in networks of the State so that we can continue to provide funding for social goods, this Government has engaged in the fire sale of national assets and investments through the medium of NAMA, IBRC and State-owned banks. It has attacked the social welfare system that is one of the last barriers to abject poverty for so many people and proposed tax cuts that will overwhelmingly benefit the highest-income earners. To quote Tom Healy of the Nevin Economic Research Institute,
“I suggest that we are wary of politicians, commentators and economists who come to our TV screens offering treats of ‘more money in your pocket’ through tax cuts. We might ask them to price these tax cuts in public service forgone, community health centres not opened, public transport not invested in, quality and affordable childcare not provided.”
Last Friday, the Tánaiste told an audience in the Croke Park conference centre that not having a job or losing a job is the root cause of inequality. This is a strange way to view the problem of inequality, which does not have a single root cause. It has multiple root causes, which create inequalities of outcome that contribute to worsening inequality of opportunity. Many people in Ireland work, and are still poor. This is due to many factors. First, there has been no Government policy to tackle the problem of low pay. More than 20% of people in employment earn less than two thirds of the average wage. This is one of the highest rates in Europe. Members of Fine Gael have uttered the phrase "living wage" just three times in this Chamber, twice in response to someone else bringing up the issue.
In Scotland, the government has been paying all of its staff above the level of the living wage for some time. More than 200 Scotland-based employers display the living wage accreditation mark, and they are on target to have more than 500 companies on board by March 2016. The living wage is an hourly rate that is set independently and updated annually. Employers choose to pay the living wage on a voluntary basis, while the national minimum wage is statutory and enforced by Revenue and Customs.
Instead of doing something as meaningful as this, that brings the issue of low pay to the forefront of the national conversation, the Government is promising to have a discussion about the minimum wage as long as it does not jar with any of the rules of neoliberal economics, namely that any recommendations by the commission should be made "without creating significant adverse consequences for employment or competitiveness." Globalisation, neoliberalism, the dismantling of international trade barriers, the rise of big business and the power of markets, and the consequent pressure put on countries to be internationally competitive, have led Europe from the golden age of economic stability and household income equality of the 1950s and 1960s to a situation in which, according to the French legal scholar Dr. Alain Supiot, "the problem is not that of adapting the economy to the needs of human beings, but rather the reverse - adapting human beings to the needs of markets, and especially to the needs of financial markets, which supposedly create harmony by making self-interest the basis for all human activity."
This position is one that fails to recognise that there is no wealth other than human beings and that an economy that ill-treats them has little future."