RTE and the Minimum Wage

In Democracy, Irish Politics,, media, society on July 29, 2009 at 10:51 pm

The Irish national broadcaster, RTE, is supposed to cover the issues of importance to the nation in a balanced manner.

And it is under constant attack for alleged liberal and leftist tendencies. That their attackers make have other ulterior motives goes seemingly unremarked.

Last week Pat Kenny launched a serious attack on the minimum wage of EUR 8.65 per hour, a rate which has not increased since 2007. This is a bit rich coming from a man who, even after accepting a pay cut of 10%, still earns EUR 375 per hour. (Calculated assuming 40 hours per week, and 48 weeks working per annum, and a salary of EUR 720k post snip)

His guest was Gerry Robinson, a man who owns a large chunk of Donegal, and who has run several large firms. Encouraged to agree with Pat that the minimum wage was actually a major factor in our economic decline, he readily agreed, and suggested that we need to reduce it in order to be ‘competitive’.

He (Robinson) then went on to express his contempt for elected politicians. The certainty with which he spoke of need to have competent people run the economy will have stuck a chord with those who used get evening phone-calls from their bank,offering all kinds of novel ways to become indebted. The tone of the calls clients are get nowadays is of an entirely different tenor.

It may have been then, or perhaps the next day, when Mr Kenny either made a mistake or else willfully misrepresented the statement issued by the greedy owners of the former De Beers plant in Shannon, now owned by Element Six. Their statement said that the cost of doing business here was the cause of the decision of the pull-out. It didn’t mention the minimum wage, for the very good reason that the cost of wages is but one of the factors in business costs. Others include rent costs, and the much maligned local government charges, such as rates and water rates; we also pay to have our trash hauled away. All of these and more make up part of the costs. Rent zoomed during the boom; I know of one shop rental which went from 16k to 48k pa between 1998 and 2006.

However we must give Mr Kenny the benefit of having misspoken, PR speak for getting it wrong, perhaps. Well that is what I thought, even though I found myself giving out about him on Facebook, as well as strangely being galvanised into action, sending a flurry of emails, so infuriated was I.
I emailed the programme, but it seemed that only messages agreeing with the need to take money from those least equipped to deal with it got through.
(Some might argue that people on the minimum wage don’t usually hear the show, and that anyone with time to contribute is almost certainly either rich or unemployed. Most working people need two salaries to survive, and some decide to live more frugally in order to actually get to be a real part of their kids lives)

What really got up my nose was his returning to the issue with his ‘Friday Gathering’, his attempt at looking back at the Zeitgeist, when he continued to push the topic, even after Leo Varadkar (FG) had pointed out that attacking the lowest paid was not on.

He (Varadker) pointed out that a wage of 17k was pretty minimal, as a cut was unlikely to save jobs. Reducing the minimum wage by 50 cents per hour would save an employer paying the minimum in a small business EUR 20 per employee a week. Even laying to one side the intense sense of pride workers feel they have in firms they have helped the management build, and in which they feel involved, this would save an employer  with 5 employees a mere 100 euros a week. If 5k a year means your business is in danger, it really is time to look for a new opportunity.

But Pat and his like will keep on pushing this line, further punishing the very people who who benefited least from our very own Celtic Ponzi scheme.

As the old Dublin saying has it, ‘Get outa that garden, Pat’.


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