Martin says minimum wage open to debate

THE future of the minimum wage should be open to discussion given Ireland has the second-highest minimum wage in Europe, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin.

Speaking on RTÉ radio, Mr Martin responded to comments by Fine Gael’ s Leo Varadkar that any cuts in the minimum wage would be “indecent”.

The foreign affairs minister said there were no proposals “as of now” for a reduction in the minimum wage, but given the current climate, it should be open for discussion.

“In the present climate, discussion about a variety of issues is legitimate... but no one has said the minimum wage is to be cut,” he said.

Speaking later in the day Taoiseach Brian Cowen indicated any examination of the national minimum wage would be a matter for the Labour Court, and not for the Government.

Mr Martin also dismissed claims from SIPTU president Jack O’Connor that Mr Cowen was unable to rein in “hawks” in the Department of Finance pursuing slash and burn economic policies.

“That’s polemic from Jack. There are no hawks around the table. The cabinet is united in achieving a further €4 billion improvement through public expenditure cuts, through revenue raising measures and some moderation of the capital programme,” he said.

On Wednesday, David Begg of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) said reducing the minimum wage would be a “toxic proposal”.

However, professor of banking at UCD’s Smurfit Business School Ray Kinsella said it was a possibility that needed to be addressed by the unions. “The question is do we have the right to stop people who are willing to work for less than the minimum wage. It is an appallingly painful question.

“The congress has to address the issue of whether the removal of the minimum wage would help safeguard jobs in sectors that have been hardest hit by unemployment and by cuts in public services,” he said.

Mr Kinsella also said the Government should focus more on enterprise than on bailing out the banks.

“It doesn’t make sense to me that at a time when we are facing upwards of 500,000 people unemployed... It is bad economics and it is even worse in terms of the disregard for human dignity,” he said.

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