I wish to reiterate the fact that 137,000 workers reported earning the national minimum wage or less in the fourth quarter of 2018. These were mainly female workers. Half of those earning the national minimum wage are under 24 years of age. Some 110,000 workers are living at risk of poverty throughout the State. A little under half of one-parent families suffer deprivation.
My understanding of the Low Pay Commission report is that it makes no reference whatsoever to a possible deferral of the recommended increase in the national minimum wage in the event of no-Brexit deal. I understand why that argument is being used but it is not acceptable. Legal protections are currently in place for companies that can show they cannot afford to pay the national minimum wage. There is no legal obligation on businesses which can afford to pay their workers a living wage to do so.
The Government has referred to unintended consequences for business, including that they could lose their profits. However, the unintended consequences for workers include inability to pay their rent with rents going up. Others cannot afford to buy their homes. The cost of insurance and the cost of living are going up. Workers are being told that they can wait and that labour can wait. That is what they are being told.
The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection said she makes no excuses for some prudence and caution, as she believes the public will understand the Government decision to await the outcome of current Brexit developments before setting an implementation date. I put it to the Minister of State that the public are not saying that. Rather, they are saying the Government has given breaks to chief executives of multinationals of €28 million in tax foregone. They are saying that the very people who are making this decision have just pocketed a wage increase one month ago. During the past two years, there have been three increases amounting to almost €4.50 per hour in wages for them. The people are not saying that they can accept it or that the Government has to be cautious. The Government is not cautious when it comes to looking after its friends and the wealthy. I can say with my hand on my heart that I have foregone that wage increase over the past three years.
I agree with some speakers in the House that the only way workers can achieve a living wage is by taking action. I salute the English language workers who have taken action in Delfin English School. Tomorrow night, the Unite trade union has organised a hospitality sector meeting. A full-time organiser from that sector has gone around during the past two weeks to almost every restaurant and hotel in this city. The union is holding a meeting tomorrow night calling for Dublin city to be a living wage city. Those involved are calling for people to get organised, to join unions to fight for decent pay and better conditions and to organise against sexual harassment in the workplace. The hospitality sector is a €5 billion sector. It has the highest percentage of minimum wage workers, who are some of the lowest paid and vulnerable workers in the economy.
I welcome this Private Members’ motion and I support it. I believe that as activists, we have to get out onto the streets and support workers who are willing to put their heads above the parapet and demand a living wage and proper pay and conditions. That is the way we can support workers and organise with them.