Economists and political pundits, along with a great many people who consider themselves Socialists, find it easy to defend the current minimum wage of €8.65 per hour for an experienced employee for two reasons; they have no experience of working for minimum wage (except perhaps when they were students and living at home), and because they are incapable of thinking of minimum wage workers as anything other than labour. After tax and the deduction of the universal social charge the minimum wage earner – working a forty hour week – will take home no more than €332 at the end of the working week. Considering then that the average rent in the city of Dublin is €1,166 per month, the minimum wage earner – living in average accommodation – is left with €40.50 in the week to purchase food, care for children, pay utility bills and water charges, and meet the costs of transport to and from work. In order to survive then, the minimum wage employee has to couple up and share these expenses with a partner or cohabitant – marriage being almost completely out of the question, but even this does not make for a life of luxury. The truth is that it is not possible to enjoy a decent standard of living on the minimum wage.

In order to make ends meet, those living on minimum wage are forced to accept grossly inadequate housing conditions along with all the health and social costs this engenders – and in Dublin there is no shortage of sub-standard housing. They are left with no alternative but to eat poorer quality food, and suffer the health consequences, but without the luxury of health insurance. Those who make the decisions on how much money these workers should earn have rarely, if ever, lived in the social conditions created by low wages and unemployment. Of course many of them will claim that they too earned minimum wage once, but in those occasions when they are telling the truth they would have been on minimum wage while working as a student on a J1 visa with the safety net of a mum and dad in an affluent part of town. This is not a real experience of the minimum wage. Such people detach themselves from the despicable realities they create for poorer people by referring to them as units of labour, much in the same way that they speak of stock. No one who works is fully defined as a worker. Workers are human beings, and deserve the same dignity as those who make decisions for them; those who grow rich from the prostitution of workers’ labour. We must move beyond the minimum wage culture and build a society where people can expect a living wage. Working people deserve a better deal.

Jason Michael
Blog Author


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