There is one undeniable quality we as Irish people have that sets us apart from everyone else in the world, our begrudgery. We tend to care more about what our neighbours have and neglect our own situation unless it can be useful in dealing out more begrudgery. Recently the Irish people have come to begrudge Luas drivers because they want an increase in their wages. From first glance the drivers look greedy. Their starting pay is €32,000 a year, and the pay scale goes to €42,000 annually after 9 years.
Social media has been ablaze with a backlash of criticism from the public denouncing Luas drivers as unskilled workers who should be happy with what they have. One argument against Luas drivers seeking a wage increase is that they already earn more than newly recruited Gards and Junior doctors. It is easy to indulge in this Ayn Rand like disgust for workers seeking wage increases, but I digress, it is counterproductive for the people of Ireland.
First of all, the facts. A junior doctor is paid less than a Luas Driver, but their pay scale skyrockets as the years go by. The average pay scale for a Doctor and GP ranges between €31,424 – €143,396 per annum depending on experience, their area of expertise and of course their seniority in their position. The national average is €59,000. It cannot be denied that a doctor and GP’s work is extremely demanding. As such, it is no wonder nine out of every ten medical students are considering leaving Ireland for opportunities abroad. But the argument against Luas drivers gaining a wage increase because our healthcare system is too abysmal to pay its staff correctly is idiotic. People should be arguing for better wages for both Junior Doctors and Luas drivers alike. Is it such an alien idea that we should be paid fairly?
First of all, if we as a people think doctors are not being paid adequate wages, then why aren’t we protesting? Luas drivers are not looking for an immediate 40-50% increase in their wages, but rather an incremental increase over a 14-year period that rewards Luas drivers who stay. They are fighting to prevent new drivers starting at lower wages than the ones who are currently working. In short they could be a springboard that will finally let employees fight for fair wages for fair work since our economy went downhill in 2008.
We are living in an era called ‘The Great Recession’ and what makes it most unsettling besides the name, is that most experts cannot agree if we are still in this era or if it has ended. The latest figures show that the Irish economy in 2016 will perform among the best in Europe with around 7% growth. We are a poster-child for the EU’s fiscal policies which have cut wages, government spending and caused a lot of misery. That is not to say I am eurosceptical. I firmly stand behind the EU and its ethos, but I cannot stand behind their blatant one solution for all member countries. Our 7% growth will benefit corporations more than it will the people. Business in Ireland is extremely important and the fact that multinationals have provided much of our employment is a great benefit. But what doesn’t benefit us is the lack of taxes we receive from them.
A corporation is treated as an entity that is a person, hence if anyone else in Ireland behaved the way a corporation did, we would be imprisoned for narcissistic tendencies. While a great many of us in Ireland are being taxed USC, corporations are not even paying the full 12.5% corporation tax. I would not take issue with our corporation tax being so low, in fact it is the reason we have so many multinationals businesses operating in Ireland. It is an artificial competitive advantage that we put in place to attract multinationals. My issue is that multinationals aren’t paying an already low amount of tax for operation in Ireland.
It should be clear that Ireland is only competitive in the world arena because we offer a low corporate tax regime and have a highly educated workforce, which is leaving Ireland in massive numbers for better lives and wages abroad. Add to that the cost of third-level education is also on the rise since 2011. It is as if we are shooting ourselves in the foot for our competitive edge. If we were to put Ireland on an even keel with the rest of Europe with an equal corporation tax among all EU member states, we would see an exodus of multinationals.
Rather than taking out our frustration at Luas drivers for wanting an increase in wages, why aren’t we supporting them as a springboard for further remuneration for the rest of the Irish workforce? It should be obvious that we should be protesting for better wages across all Irish industry. The government and analysts would argue that to increase wages would stifle Irish competitiveness, but when you consider most of the 7% growth will not benefit most working people, except in the creating further employment prospects for lower wages for the same work, it should make sense that we in Ireland finally say we want better.
People are starting to call this new era in Ireland ‘The Celtic Phoenix’. I hope it is nothing like the Celtic Tiger. Instead of mismanaging our economy and depending on one industry to sustain ourselves, we need to find a sustainable path for the future. It is not enough to get back to the way things were, we have to be smarter in our decisions for the future. Luas drivers deserve better wages and so do most of the people in Ireland. The Irish Government recently tried privatize water. The backlash was almost uncharacteristically Irish, but we live in times where we are almost being pushed too far. We should be fighting back for wages which not only remunerate the work we give, but also remunerate us for a modern lifestyle. The minimum wage was €8.65 in 2015 and it is now €9.15 and that is still too low to live a life from, despite some in the EU reporting the minimum wage is too high.
Sinn Féin has been banging its populist drum and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are trying to sound like the voice of reason. For anyone else in Ireland who is like me and thinks we need a new voice in Ireland that isn’t looking to simply cash in on anti-government sentiment or feign for the lies of ‘let’s keep the recovery going’ then look abroad. Nothing in Ireland will change and I dare say that if the recovery does work it will not be because of the Irish government, but because external factors have stabilized and the world economy is working, not the Irish economy. That is why I write today that we should defend the Luas drivers, not demonize them. Pay them, pay them, pay them, then pay the rest of us.