In most towns and cities you don’t have to walk very far to see a ‘staff wanted’ sign. It could be looking out from a window in a restaurant, bar, supermarket or hardware store. Employers are crying out for more staff.
Research published yesterday by law firm Mason Hayes & Curran and the Irish Management Institute revealed 30pc of businesses name staff shortages as their main concern for the forthcoming year.
The post-pandemic labour market has changed dramatically.
The wide-spread closure of businesses ranging from fast-food restaurants to high-street retailers and everything inbetween due to Covid resulted in many workers reconsidering their careers. The rise of the tech industry has provided workers with alternative opportunities and in many cases with better terms and conditions than working in your local supermarket or fast-food restaurant.
The latest Central Statistic Office (CSO) figures show unemployment stands at just 4.2pc, which is around 119,000 unemployed people. It’s one of the lowest rates of unemployment the country has ever seen.
But many in receipt of the jobseeker benefit have a good reason for being unemployed and need the State to step in with a safety net.
There are also long-term unemployed people drawing down the support who have no real intention of going out a getting themselves a job.
Fine Gael sees itself as the party of business and enterprise and wants to be seen to be fighting the corner of employers who can’t get anyone to work for them.
Some senior party figures do not believe the jobseeker allowance should be increased along with all other welfare payments in next year’s Budget.
They see it as incentivising people to sit at home and not go out and get a job.
That narrative is red meat to the Fine Gael base – the people who get up early in the morning and who believe anyone who doesn’t is a layabout.
It is also part of a now year-long campaign by Fine Gael to shift away from being a party for all to being one for Middle Ireland.
But, as said earlier, there are lots of people who have legitimate reasons for being unemployed and record levels of inflation are impacting on their pockets as much as anyone else.
There aren’t different prices in the supermarket or petrol stations for the unemployed.
The top rate of jobseeker is currently €208 and that’s not going to get you very far these days.
It's red meat to the Fine Gael base – the people who get up early in the morning and who believe anyone who doesn’t is a layabout
Granted, there are lots of other welfare supports people who are long-term unemployed could also be claiming.
Fianna Fáil and the Green Party are likely to face down any dissent from Fine Gael on the jobseeker allowance and those in receipt of the benefit will get similar if not the same increase as all other welfare recipients.
A significant increase in the minimum wage or a move close to the living wage might also help encourage more people to enter the workforce.
The minimum wage is €10.50 per hour which also isn’t going to get you very far in the current climate.
The Low Pay Commission will make a recommendation prior to the Budget which the Government generally accepts, but it doesn’t have to.
Fine Gael will again argue the case of businesses that are getting back on their feet after the pandemic and might not be able to shoulder the financial burden of paying staff, say, an extra €1 an hour.
There are lots of big decisions to be taken by the Coalition over the coming weeks with the margins of error more narrow than ever.
Interests groups will be lining up for face time with ministers to make their cases while citizens look on hoping they will have more money in their pockets.
Political and ideological differences may have to be put aside to ensure the country can survive this period of economic upheaval.