The Commission had no worker representatives in its membership, although it received submissions from the ICTU and several of the constituent unions. Employer representatives have been conducting a determined campaign against legislation for a minimum wage, with seemingly unlimited access to the national media to propagate their point of view. They have condemned the Commission's recommendation and have declared their intention of continuing the fight against it.
The Dublin Council of Trades Unions has been conducting a campaign for a minimum wage of £5 per hour since before Christmas 1997. They issued a list of rotten employers who are paying significantly less than £5 per hour and organised a series of protests outside the premises of those employers. Leaflets were handed out to Saturday afternoon shoppers in O'Connell Street, Grafton Street and Henry Street on several weeks in February and March, giving information on some of the scandalous rates being paid by well-known employers like Burger King, Bus Stop and Eddie Rocketts.
At some of the businesses, people turned away in disgust when they read the information leaflets and staff members came out to the protesters with messages of support for the action. In March the executive of the DCTU pledged funding and support to continue the campaign. Following the commission's report they now aim to campaign on the issues of trade union recognition and a Charter of Trade Union Rights.
If the National Minimum Wage Commission had recommended a statutory £5 per hour (or even the £4.40 per hour) to be paid within this year, there would be huge implications for the future of Partnership 2000 and this may well be the reason for the distant implementation date and the lower figure. The recommended date suggests that the implementation of the statutory minimum wage, at whatever amount, may be contingent on a further partnership deal. This is certainly not what trade unionists have been demanding.
It is not only non-unionised workers who are suffering low pay - many of the Joint Labour Commission rates, in areas like catering and hairdressing, are well below the £5 level. There is no doubt that they would benefit from a rise to £4.40 but very marginally, if the implementation of the rate is to be delayed for two years. It's far too early to throw in the towel in this particular fight.