Is an Hour Worth €8.65

Motley’s Killian Down examines the impregnable barrier that is the minimum wage

€8.65 is a sum that will be all too familiar with many of our student readers. It’s a building block that may someday amount to a summer spent on foreign shores, or perhaps the one thing that prevents yet another lonely migration across the Atlantic from which there may be no return. Whatever this paltry sum may promise or indeed prevent, its name remains the same: the minimum wage.

For the last number of months there has been a perceptible change in tone in the news delivered to the masses on a daily basis; for five arduous, painful years, our ears were met each day by a seemingly endless stream of job losses in the hundreds, stinging tax increases and barked orders from our European financial masters, baying for repayments. Turn on the morning news today, however, and you will be greeted with a far sweeter tune, a song known as the end of austerity. In fact at the time of writing, 515 new jobs have been announced in the past week, a sure sign that things are beginning to look up, financially speaking.

How much is enough for the lowest earners in our society?

There is, unfortunately, always a caveat. Minimum wage levels in Ireland have not risen since 2007. Prior to Budget 2015, which was presented to the public in October, Unite, a trade union, called for a hike in the minimum wage to €9.20 which the union forecasted would increase consumer spending by €1bn and cause employment figures to rise by a staggering 17,000. However, despite Budget 2015 marking the end of austerity, minimum wage levels remained stationary yet again. This begs the question, how much is enough for the lowest earners in our society?

It is a difficult task to answer this question, not only from a moral point of view but from a purely statistics-based standpoint too; such a divisive topic makes for campaigners on both sides of the fence presenting partisan statistics that support their own respective views, blurring who is right and who is wrong. It would appear at this juncture that those advocating a freeze in the minimum wage will remain satisfied for now, at least. In the words of Minister for Jobs, Richard Bruton, “I don’t believe the priority now is for wages increases. The priority is to continue to focus on employment opportunities.”

Many will argue that the government’s policy on maximising employment whilst continually ignoring calls for an increase in the minimum wage is a somewhat flawed one. After all, many of those already in employment are struggling to make ends meet. As such, a “living wage” of €11.45 per hour has been postulated by a technical group of campaigners, trade unions and think tanks. This figure is touted as the true minimum wage from which an acceptable standard of living can be maintained.

Despite the dawn of the end of austerity it cannot be denied that we are still living in a harsh economic climate, one in which such a stark increase in the minimum wage will be laughed off as a piece of fantastical wishful thinking. However, those on the bottom rung of the wage levels ladder are doing everything but laughing.