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Friday 22 August 2014

Burton set for clash over pay call as Kenny focuses on jobs

Niall O'Connor Political Correspondent

Published 05/03/2014 | 02:30

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JOAN Burton has reiterated her call for wage increases – but the rest of her government colleagues are focused on creating jobs rather than securing pay hikes.

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The Social Protection Minister's desire to create a 'living wage' – which would be higher than the minimum wage of €8.65 – puts her on another collision course with Fine Gael.

A 'living wage' system operates in London and aims to ensure that workers can afford to cover basic needs such as housing, clothing and food.

Ms Burton used her speech on the Programme for Government to call for a "gradual phasing in" of wage hikes.

This is at odds with her government and party colleagues, with Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore saying that pay is a matter for workers and their employers to sort out.

Ms Burton said a 'living wage' scheme could begin on a voluntary basis, allowing employers to "buy in".

"A living wage would be higher than the minimum wage, and would provide the income necessary to meet basic needs, including housing and healthcare, on top of items such as food and heating," she said.

"In my view, we should consider a gradual phasing-in of a living wage, beginning on a voluntary basis – with buy-in from employers.

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However, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has previously said the country was not returning to the "old ways and the old days" – an apparent reference to the wage deals of the Celtic Tiger days.

Yesterday, Mr Kenny said the Government's focus was on a "relentless" campaign of job creation throughout 2014 that would focus upon the construction sector.

He made the comments as the Coalition marked its third year in office.

Delivering their annual assessment of the Programme for Government, Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore said 60pc of measures pledged by the Coalition have either been delivered or were at an advanced stage. The Taoiseach said he understood that people up and down the country had not yet seen the fruits of recovery and that there was an "unacceptable" number of people unemployed.

"You can't say to everybody – you know from Clontibret to Clonakilty – you can see the benefits happening now. We recognise what people are putting up with. We recognise the difficulties that many families still have and will continue to have for some time."

However, he insisted that this would change and reiterated the Government's pledge to achieve full employment by 2020.

Mr Gilmore said that easing pressure on families in 2014 would be a top priority for the Government, indicating that positive tax measures would be contained in the next Budget.

"For too long in our country, people have been living with a fear of the future. Fear for their family's future. Our focus now, in 2014, is ensuring that nothing puts recovery at risk, and in making the choices that ensure people can plan for the future again, with hope," he said.

Separately, Ms Burton said that tax breaks should be aimed at low-income earners, as well as those on a middle income, which could encourage more people into the workforce.

The Dublin West TD also said changes to the Universal Social Charge and the marginal tax rate should be examined.

Irish Independent

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