Blog Home  Bookmark and Share

Recently in National Wage Agreements Category

Budget Reactions

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

It is clear that (a) the Mininster has underestimated the looming problems (b) taxpayers were braced to accept some pain provided it was seen as equitably distributed (c) reform of the public sector has become a priority and (d) failure to recapitalise the banking systems will lead to a credit famine.

Here are some suggestions to address these matters:

  1. It is clear that the majority will pay for the excesses of the past few years even though only a small minority were the principal beneficiaries. On the basis that those who gained most should pay most, the income levy percentages should be extended on a sliding scale from 0% for the lowest paid up to, say, 10% for those on the very highest incomes and expanded, as a condition of retaining Irish citizenship, to the worldwide incomes of our tax exiles. These changes should raise sufficient revenue to roll back the budget cuts and tax increases impacting on young, old and weak.

  2. Extremely high salaries should be subsidised by shareholders rather than by taxpayers, To this end,  the Finance Bill should disallow any elements of total salary, bonus and pension contribution exceeding, say, 15 times the average industrial wage (c. €600,000) from being tax deductable.

  3. Payroll costs account for about half of all public sector expenditure and salary rates are well ahead of their equivalents in the private sector and abroad. To help reduce costs, restore parity and reduce future borrowings, the Government should plead "inability to pay" other than to the lowest earners under the proposed new national wage agreement.

    It should only agree to recommence payment of increases post-rationalisation and -restructuring as guided by the forthcoming report on the Task Force on Public Service.

  4. The scale of the looming pensions problem is evidenced by the sharp declines in the National Pension Reserve Fund and private sector funds, the poor uptake of pensions by the unpensioned and the surging cost of public sector pensions.

    Taxpayers with low/no pensions should not be required to subside "gold plated" pensions for politicians and public servants. The Government should immediately initiate a realistically funded contributory pension scheme in lieu of the present prohibitively expensive and inequitable "pay-as-you-go" arrangement.

  5. The National Treasury Management Agency should immediately acquire substantial stakes in the quoted Irish banks to recapitalise them as insurances against defaults linked to the State guarantees and in anticipation of their profit declines over the next few years.

    Alternatively, the NPRF should liquidate some of its overseas holdings to acquire these stakes on the grounds that if our banking system fails the funding of pensions for two decades hence becomes academic. Of course, the annual payments of 1% of GNP, financed by borrowings, to the NPRF should be suspended immediately.

National Wages Analysis

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

The proposed new national wage agreement continues the practice of awarding percentage increases "across the board" with only a token nod to the lowest paid. This has helped make our ministers, TDs, and highest earning public sector managers and professionals amongst the best paid in the world and has progressively widened the income gap between low and high paid.

Using data from the CSO's National Employment Survey for 2006, the proposed agreement's impact on employees who account for 82% of the work force can be assessed as follows:

  • Gross earnings of 1.7 million employees amounted to €63 billion and the proposed agreement would increase this by €3.8 billion (6.1%) if applied to all employees. 
  • Because the proposed increases are percentages, lower paid employees would receive much smaller monetary gains. This means that about 233,000 workers earning less than €13,000 a year would share an increase of €173 million whereas the 75,000 employees earning over €75,000 a year would share about €466 million. Put another way, the lowest paid workers (14% of all employees) would get 5% of the cake while the much less numerous highest paid (4% of total) would get a 12% slice.
  • The 0.5% "bonus" for the low-paid employees would be worth less €2 a week per worker. It would apply to about 500,000 workers but account for a mere 1% of the total proposed increase.

Aside from being inequitable, the proposed agreement ignores the fact that world economies are facing a possible serious recession and that, thanks to the excesses of the Celtic Tiger, our open economy has become completely uncompetitive. Given that the global credit crisis has yet to reach our real economy, a much more radical agreement is needed. For example, to restore competitiveness and social equity, the proposed percentages could be reassigned so that the lowest paid get the 6% and the highest get the 0.5% over the agreement's life. If applied on a sliding scale to all workers, the cost would be about €2 billion, just over half that of the proposed agreement.

Responding to Recession

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Here are three proposals which could help negotiations on a new national wage agreement, claw back some of the excesses of the Celtic Tiger, improve equity within society, generate additional funds for the Exchequer, and enhance national competitiveness:

  1. Apply wage increases under the next agreement on a sliding scale, for example, 3% p.a. on the first €30,000, 2% on the next thirty and 1% on the balance. As wage increases, in the absence of growth, are mainly intended to compensate for basic cost increases, there is no case for automatically offering the same proportional increases to those already enjoying high incomes. 
  2. Either introduce an additional tax rate (say 45%) for those earning over, say, €100,000 or ensure that those on the 41% rate actually pay tax at that rate on their incremental earnings by scaling back allowances for "top-hat" pensions, investments etc. It is inequitable that someone earning €60,000 a year pays tax at 41% while a person earning five times more can pay tax at a lower effective rate.
  3. Drop the standard VAT rate to, say, 18%. This would reduce the cost of living and help redress the imbalance between low direct taxes (which benefit the better off) and indirect taxes which fall most heavily on the less well off.

The figures are illustrative but basic analysis would identify the ideal combination to achieve all the aforementioned objectives.

Lead letter published in the Irish Times on 28th June 2008.

Next National Wage Agreement

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Dr X's call for a pay freeze (4th May7 2008) is unlikely to secure much support in the talks on a new national wage agreement on account of our high inflation etc. However, here are three proposals which taken together could enhance national competitiveness, protect living standards, claw back some excesses of the Celtic Tiger, improve equity within society and generate additional funds for the Exchequer:

  1. Wage increases under the next wage agreement should be applied on a sliding scale e.g. 3% p.a. on the first €30,000, 2% on the next thirty and 1% on the balance. As wage increases are mainly intended to compensate for basic cost increases, there is no case for automatically offering the same proportional increases to those already enjoying high incomes. 

  2. Either introduce an additional higher tax rate (say 45%) for those earning over, say, €100,000 or ensure that those on the 41% rate actually pay tax at that rate on their incremental earnings by scaling back allowances for "top-hat" pensions, investments etc. It is anomalous that someone earning €60,000 a year pays tax at 41% while a person earning five times more can pay tax at a much lower effective rate.

  3. Lower the standard VAT rate to, say, 19%. This would reduce the cost of living and help redress the imbalance between low direct taxes (which benefit the better off) and indirect taxes which fall most heavily on the less well off.

Figures are illustrative but basic financial modelling would identify the ideal combination to meet all the aforementioned objectives which, presumably, are reasonable and desirable.

Lead letter published in the Sunday Business Post on 11th May 2008.

Review Body and Public Pay

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

It is clear from the reaction to the recent Report by the Review Body on Higher Remuneration that its approach of comparing public sector salaries with the private sector is inadequate. Why should Irish Secretaries General be paid more than their equivalents in almost every other country? If TD salaries are very high by international standards and linked to those of Principal Officers, what does this say about salaries at middle levels in the Irish public sector?  Buried in the Review Body's report is mention of a recent survey, covering 13 countries, that indicated that the remuneration of office holders in all the countries is WELL BELOW (my emphasis) below that of jobs of comparable weight in the private sector. Why should Ireland be so different?

It will be interesting to see if the current review by the OECD of the Irish public sector will include salary comparisons when it benchmarks the Irish public sector against other comparable countries. If it doesn't do this, how can it hope to assess effectiveness and performance given that pay and pensions account for the bulk of public expenditure.

Aside from Review Body awards and benchmarking, the main driver of politician and public sector pay has been the various national agreements which appear to mainly benefit the public sector. Because these agreements provide percentage increases across the board, workers at the lower end of the scale only receive small monetary increases and the gap between top and bottom salaries gets wider on an exponential basis. Is it any wonder that, notwithstanding the smallness of the State, our political and administrative leaders are, thanks to these percentage increases, amongst the best paid in the world?

For the future, the Review Body must be instructed by the Government to take account of comparable public sector salaries in other EU countries and national agreements should make provision for percentage increases to be applied on a sliding scale so that the lowest paid get the largest percentage increases.

Lead letter published in the Irish Times on 7th November 2008.

Taoiseach and the Economy

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Only weeks after stuffing the electorate with promises of lower taxes and better services, the Taoiseach tells us (7th June) that we are entering a period of challenging economic conditions and that it is important to focus on restoring and renewing competitiveness across all dimensions. Isn't it really strange that this is the second occasion that conditions have deteriorated immediately following an election?

In fact, absolutely nothing has altered during the past month to justify this about face. However, if the Taoiseach believes what he says then he could lead by example and slash the inflated salaries of ministers/TDs who are amongst the best paid in the World. He should then shake up the public sector to bring it into line with performance and pay norms in the private sector and ensure that lump sum wage increases rather than socially-device percentage increases are applied in future national wage agreements.

Unless measures along these lines are taken to restore our increasingly unbalanced, uncompetitiveness, overpriced and overborrowed economy, we will see a continuing deterioration. Action now would be less painful than the appalling prospect of having to abandon the euro for a floating Irish pound in order to recover the levers of economic management. This would improve competitiveness but at the expense of even higher prices and interest rates.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 13th June 2007. 

National Wage Agreement Cop-Out

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Minister Martin's reported willingness to consider opt-out clauses in future national wage agreements for exporting businesses is a bit rich coming from a minister who had more pay rises in recent years than most people in the private sector have had hot dinners.

This cop-out would allow the public and non-traded sectors which are immune to economic realities and real competitive pressures to continue to enjoy unsustainable pay increases. As a consequence our national competitiveness would be further reduced and with corporate tax rates within the EU likely to converge we would see an eastward flight of investment from Ireland. In these circumstances, the only solution may be to abandon the euro and revert to a floating Irish pound. This would improve competitiveness but at the expense of higher prices and interest rates.

The bottom line is that if national agreements are not suitable for the traded sector then they are inappropriate for everyone.

Nurses Pay - Symptom of Deeper Problems

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

The central issue in the nurses dispute is not that they may be paid too little but that other people get too much, too easily.

For example, the Taoiseach and his cabinet are amongst the best paid in the world; unjustifiably high fees are charged by many sheltered professions offering critical services; price gouging is widespread amongst many local private and public services; house prices are set by an unholy alliance of builders and bankers with predictable results; wage inequities have intensified due to continual use of percentage increases under successive national agreements which, in addition, have mainly applied to the public sector; and superfluous tax reliefs have ensured that people who should pay the most tax can actually pay the least.

The net result is that competitiveness has declined alarmingly and consumer price increases are amongst the highest in the world. The remedial action is straightforward - hold back wages and prices.

The starting points could be benchmarking mark two which must roll back the first one and more; the next national wage agreement must deliver absolute rather than percentage increases; the income tax system must be rebalanced to ensure that the higher rate applies to all higher incomes; meaningful powers must be given to regulators and the Competition Authority; and, most critically, the next Government must be willing to play hard ball with vested interests in the national interest. Predictably, none of these actions feature in election promises.

Letter published in the Sunday Business Post on 15th April 2007.

Towards 2016 - Towards Greater Inequity

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

The recently approved Towards 2016 agreement is, like its predecessors, unbalanced and inequitable. Based on data abstracted from the recently published National Employment Survey, total national earnings amounted to approximately €42 billion in 2003. On this basis, the 10% increase under Towards 2016 would be worth €4.2 billion and, if distributed equally, would equate to €2,900 a year per worker.

Because increases are applied on a percentage basis, workers at the lower end of the scale receive much smaller monetary increases. This means that the 233,000 workers earning less than €250 a week are likely to share about €256 million whereas the 145,000 workers earning more than €1,000 a week will share about €1,100 million. On this basis, the 10% of the highest paid workers will secure about a quarter of the total increase and the 16% of lowest paid will get just 6%. Furthermore, the extra 0.5% negotiated for low paid could cost about €25 million and amount to considerable less than one percent of the total value of the agreement.

What is so disconcerting about national agreements is the cumulative effect of awarding percentage increases across the board. This only serves to widen the gap and perpetuate inequities. Is it any wonder that, notwithstanding the size of the State, our political and administrative leaders are, thanks to these increases, amongst the best paid in the world? Towards 2016 should be viewed as a national disgrace rather than a national agreement. If the State can afford a wage increase of €4.2 billion, why can't it be distributed more fairly?

Letter published in the Sunday Business Post on 17th September 2006.

OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID
Powered by Movable Type 4.25

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the National Wage Agreements category.

National Pension Fund is the previous category.

Pensions is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Top of Page