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8 January 1998 Edition

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Workers in struggle

£5 an hour is only fair

Tens of thousands of workers are struggling on £2 and £3 an hour. This is unacceptable
A fair minimum wage - this was the demand from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) who started a public campaign for a £5 per hour minimum wage in the 26 Counties last week.

ICTU press officer Oliver Donohoe told An Phoblacht that over 200 billboard sites have been rented across the 26 Counties for the next month and Congress is to lobby TDs and prominent people in public life to support their campaign..

``Tens of thousands of workers are struggling on £2 and £3 an hour. This is unacceptable'' said O'Donohoe. He believed that the vast bulk of people would consider £5 an hour a fair minimum wage particularly when you consider that it is ``women and young people who are most affected''.

``They are the hidden face of the economic boom,'' said Donohoe. ``They are the people you don't see working in restaurants, offices and hotels, the people who are often at work before and after the bulk of other workers, the people who are making the Tiger economy possible''.

Ryanair's double standard

Chief executive Michael O'Leary earned £17 million. A Ryanair ground staff worker would have to put in 1,250 years work to earn the same amount of money.
The mixture of high profits, low costs and no frills has made Ryanair into one of the most profitable airlines in Ireland or Britain. While also being the most profitable airline, SIPTU ground handling staff at the company claim it is one of the lowest payers in the industry.

This Friday 50 ground staff are to begin limited industrial action in pursuit of a wage increase at the airline. Paul O'Sullivan, a SIPTU official representing the workers, told An Phoblacht that they had written to the company in early December and that Ryanair were ``still refusing to talk to the union''.

Now the SIPTU members are to begin work stoppages for three hours out of every eight and a half hour shift. O'Sullivan believes the stoppage will lead to delays and cancellations of Ryanair flights.

``Ryanair should be a pay leader in the industry,'' maintained O'Sullivan. He says that Ryanair workers were the most productive and performed the highest range of functions compared to workers at other airlines.

A Ryanair statement claims that their ground staff at the company ``are paid more money, enjoy better benefits and more time off that their equivalents in other companies at Dublin airport, including Aer Lingus and Servisair''. O'Sullivan claims that ``the company propaganda is not true''.

Whatever about the differing claims of SIPTU and Ryanair, the actual working conditions of Ryanair ground staff are worth highlighting.

The top rate of pay after five years is £13,600 which seems at one level to be higher than the £12,600 that Servisair staff earn. Part of this £13,600 is made up of monthly bonuses of £108 a month for workers who take no sick leave. There is also a shift allowance of £100 a month. Workers put in six days on and three off and end up working two weekends out of three for an annual salary which is barely the average industrial wage.

Contrast this £13,600 with the average payout to Ryanair directors of over £928,000 each in 1995, or the fact that over the three years previous to last May's stock market flotation of the company, chief executive Michael O'Leary earned £17 million . A Ryanair ground staff worker would have to put in 1,250 years work to earn the same amount of money.

One law for the rich

Those who doubted that there really was one law for the rich and one for the poor should be silenced with the findings of a recent survey carried out by the 26-County Revenue Commissioners which showed that almost one in five people who earn over £250,000 a year pay an average tax level of only 20%. Worse still, a significant minority were paying almost no income tax courtesy of tax shelters and loopholes in the state's tax regulations.

Such loopholes and shelters are not accessible to the ordinary PAYE workers who will have to go on paying over 40% of their salaries in tax. Some of the tax avoiders got their tax write-off because they are members of syndicates in Dublin's International Financial Services Centre.

The survey also found that 8.5% of the high earners paid less than 5% income tax. Only 8% paid tax rates of over 40%. The findings were presented to Finance minister Charlie McCreevy. One wonders will he act on these tax shelters in the forthcoming finance bill and remove just one of the more glaring inequities of the 26-County taxation system.

The life of Reilly

Christmas came a few days early for Bean king Tony O'Reilly. As chief executive of Heinz, O'Reilly enjoys the benefits of being allowed to buy company shares at a bargain basement price. Tony is already the largest individual shareholder in Heinz. He now owns shares worth £218 million, 1.7% of the company.

On 12 December O'Reilly bought 1,125,000 shares, making a gain of $35 million dollars on the transaction. O'Reilly hands over the chief executive job on 30 April. Don't worry about Tony missing out on any more of those lucrative share options. He will remain on as Heinz chairperson until 2002.

£10,000 pay rise for TDs

``I honestly believe that in this day and age... it is not fair to ask TDs to work six days a week - and work damn hard for £34,000''. This was the reasoning Bertie Ahern gave for supporting a £10,000 wage increase for Leinster House TDs. The fact that thousands of other Irish workers put in the same amount of hours for a lot less money seemed lost on Bertie or that TDs already earn more than double the average industrial wage.

We asked Sinn Fein's TD Caoimhghín O Caoláin what he thought about the proposed wage increase. He told An Phoblacht that TDs and all public servants should get the same wage increases as other workers. He said ``There should be no exception - the same pay rise for all''.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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