Towards the end of his term as lord mayor of Dublin last year, Brendan Carr held a photo call outside Mansion House to launch a new scheme for the city: the Dublin Living Wage Initiative.
“In this city, there are residents in full time employment whose overall earnings are so insufficient that their families have to avail of emergency accommodation,” said Carr, a Labour councillor, in statement at the time.
This new scheme would promote businesses who paid the living wage, which at the time was €11.50, by awarding them with a plaque, he said.
“From tomorrow businesses across the city will have the opportunity to apply to the city council to become part of the initiative,” said Carr.
But nearly seven months on, there has been no further mention of the award.
“No progress to date has been made on the implementation of the scheme,” said a spokesperson for Dublin City Council last week.
Is it still going ahead?
The Living Wage
Some 105,000 people in Ireland are working and still living in poverty, says Sean Healy director of Social Justice Ireland, who sits on the government’s Living Wage Technical Group, which assesses how much the living wage should be.
That is because the minimum wage, currently set at €9.55 for experienced adult workers, is not linked to the cost of living. “The minimum wage doesn’t provide sufficient income for a person to get out of poverty; for that to be achieved you need a living wage,” Healy says
Every year, the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, a faith-based NGO that aims to tackle poverty and exclusion, conducts research and identifies a “minimally adequate standard of living” by examining the cost of thousands of everyday items, he says.
The Living Wage Technical Group uses that research to set the living wage, says Healy. “It is based on the concept that work should provide an adequate income to enable people to afford a socially acceptable standard of living,” he says.
The living wage went up this year from €11.50 to €11.70. That increase was due to the rising cost of housing, he says. Still that is “a pretty low salary,” he says. It’s based on a 39-hour week and adds up to €23,727 a year.
“All it provides you with is a minimum essential standard of living. That’s an improvement of what a lot of people have, but it’s still a minimum standard,” says Healy. “There are no bells and whistles on it.”
If the Dublin rate was set apart from the rest of Ireland, the living wage here would be slightly higher than €11.70, says Healy. But the technical group doesn’t do that, because, unlike some other European countries, there is no precedent for dealing with the capital separately in labour relations here.
Healy would still like to see the Dublin Living Wage Scheme introduced. “It was a good initiative by the lord mayor, so why not follow through on it?” he says. “There are many companies in Ireland that do pay it.”
Dublin City Council Press Office didn’t respond to queries around why the scheme had been held up, and whether it was still going ahead. Councillor Brendan Carr didn’t get back to us either in time for publication.
Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland, who was on the council sub-committee established to examine the initiative says that the scheme is going ahead.
It was agreed that the Enterprise and Economic Development Committee and Local Community Development Committee would draw up a protocol to manage the process, she says. “That is in train at the moment.”
There are a few things to keep in mind, she says, for example, some businesses might pay the hourly living wage, but if their employees are on zero-hours contracts, they won’t be earning enough to live on overall.
Then there are contracted staff, who work for other organisations – should they be included? If you have cleaners coming in who don’t get paid a living wage, should you be allowed to get a plaque?
Consumers who want to support those businesses who pay a living wage should be informed, says Gilliland. “No more than the fair-trade campaign, we are allowing people to make an ethical choice and support shops that pay their staff a wage they can live on,” she says.
He says no report has come to either committee on the issue of the Living Wage Initiative, and he asked for an update on it at the latest meeting of the LCDC.
But he thinks the awards would be positive, and hopes that they are going ahead, he says.
Ibec, which represents businesses, the Restaurants Association of Ireland, and the Irish Hotels Federation raised concerns in June about the council’s scheme, according to The Times, saying that it didn’t take account of the business’s ability to pay.
None of the three organisations responded to queries before this was published. However, in July 2017, Ibec released a statement calling the whole idea of a living wage “a fundamentally flawed concept”, and saying that it is “the wrong way to address cost of living pressures The concept of a ‘living wage’ does not take any account of a business’s ability to pay.”
If a company genuinely can’t afford to pay it then “that is fair enough”, says Healy. But most can afford it, he says.