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Recession gives us edge as pay rate rises by 0.8pc

The cost of an hour's work is arguably the key determining factor for multinationals mulling where to base their foreign operations.

Tax rates matter hugely, but you cannot credibly discuss a country's competitiveness without discussing labour costs.

Ireland's costs became infamously out of line with our peers during the boom – when the flow of apparently cheap money did for any semblance of wage restraint.

In economic, if not in human terms, one positive impact of the bust has been a sudden gain in competitiveness – dubbed internal devaluation.

The hourly wage paid to workers here has increased by just 0.8pc since 2008, not even matching inflation.

Crucially much of the rest of Europe is following a different trend. Statistics from Eurostat show that the average hourly wage rose by 8.6pc among EU countries over the last four years, to €23.40. In the 17-member eurozone the average stands at €28 per hour. European labour costs vary massively. An hour's work in Bulgaria costs an employer €3.70 on average. In Sweden its €39.

European Union

Across the European Union as a whole wages fell slightly between 2011 and 2012, but for the most part pay has increased right throughout the euro crisis period.

Wages have risen even as unemployment rates hit a record high of 12pc, with an estimated 26.3 million people out of a job.

The averages are deceptive. In Greece labour costs have decreased by more than 10pc in the last four years. The country still has some of the highest unemployment levels in the EU.

In Ireland the average hourly wage of €29.10 remains at the higher end of the European scale, just below Germany but well below rates in Scandinavia where workers in Sweden earn €39 on average and Danes are paid €38.10 an hour.

In contrast Austria, Slovakia and Finland all recorded double digit growth in wage costs between 2008 and 2012.

Worryingly, though, rates in Ireland's nearest competitor the UK are well below the European average at €20.10 per hour. Just like here wages in the UK have been flat as wages elsewhere increased, in part because sterling has been weakening.

Labour costs are made up of wages plus some costs of employing staff, including employers' social welfare contributions.

Non-wage costs make up a below average share of the labour bill in Ireland, at 14.1pc. It means more of the cost of employing staff is directly a result of wages.

On average across the European Union such non-wage costs amount to 23.7pc of the labour bill.

In France and Spain around a third of the hourly cost of employing someone is non-wage costs.

Irish Independent