Bruton isolated on pay plans as Labour ups ante

LABOUR TDs have upped the ante against Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton’s plans to overhaul wage-setting mechanisms.

A series of Labour TDs issued statements yesterday warning against Mr Bruton’s proposals and stressing the need to protect low-paid workers.

The statements were issued through the Labour press office, and suggested a concerted effort by the party to make clear its opposition to the proposals.

The TDs welcomed assurances from Labour ministers and Taoiseach Enda Kenny that no decisions had yet been taken.

Speaking at an event in Dublin Airport, Mr Kenny reiterated that Mr Bruton would embark on a consultation exercise and that the matter would come back to Cabinet before any decision was made.

Mr Kenny also said nothing should be read into his comments the previous day to the effect that Mr Bruton was following a “personal agenda” with his proposals.

Asking if he regretted that language, Mr Kenny replied: “People shouldn’t be reading things into (it). This is not what some people want it to be.”

But Mr Bruton was left looking increasingly isolated as a succession of Labour TDs criticised his proposals while Fine Gael colleagues remained largely silent.

Labour TD Kevin Humphreys said Mr Bruton’s zeal for reform should be focused on lawyers and doctors and overcharging in those sectors.

“While Minister Bruton would appear to be happy enough to allow many employers cut the wages of some of our lowest-paid workers, he doesn’t seem to be too worried by the fact that those same workers will still have to fork out €50 or €60 to visit a doctor, or pay out hand over fist for even the most basic legal advice.

“If Minister Bruton is genuinely concerned about making Ireland more competitive by cutting fees and salaries, he really should start at the top.”

Labour TD Robert Dowds echoed that call, and cautioned against what he called Mr Bruton’s “desire to undermine the pay and conditions of lower-paid workers”.

Another party TD, Derek Nolan, accused Mr Bruton of being on a “quest” to “undermine wage-setting agreements”.

Yet another Labour TD, Sean Kenny, said he would make every effort to ensure there was no attempt to “single out” workers covered by the agreements.

“Cutting pay at lowest levels will disincentivise work, driving more and more people onto the dole as a result,” he added.

The EU-IMF bailout obliges the Government to overhaul the wage-setting mechanisms and the administration has received an independent report recommending how this could be done.

However, Labour believes Mr Bruton’s plans exceed what is recommended in the report, particularly his proposals which could see Sunday premiums scrapped for workers in the hospitality, catering and retail sectors.

Despite the seemingly clear rift between Mr Bruton and Labour on the issue, the minister insisted the Government was “united” on the need for radical reform of the mechanisms.

Defending low-paid

CUTTING the incomes of the low paid and those on the dole was not the way back to economic growth, Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte has claimed.

In a robust defence of the poorer paid in society, he disagreed with the European Commission and the OECD that those on lower wages and unemployment benefits need to be cut.

“This is a wrong headed idea that we could squeeze people on social welfare until the pips squeak so they should go back to work where no jobs exist.

“We should be upskilling them and sending them back to education and some kind of training, it would be a far more productive course to follow,” he said.

“The proposition that to get the economy up and running again you have to tackle the unit labour costs of people on the minimum wage and lower and just above it, I don’t accept that is where we should start,” Mr Rabbitte said.

He believed there were not many serious economists in the IMF or elsewhere that would argue you have to tackle the remuneration of the lowest paid in society.

“We certainly have to have a more flexible workforce, more agile pay determination system, we have to examine where the low paid system interacts with the social welfare system and we have to continue to put the emphasise on providing people with a job or training opportunities — and that's the way we are headed,” he said.

“You have to be very careful in tampering with pay from low workers and that constitutes a significant number of part-time and temporary workers,” he said.

- By Ann Cahill


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