The overwhelming focus of the discussions on competitiveness in Ireland revolve around the cost of labour. Essentially, that the cost of employee wages is too high. In the build up to the last budget, a lot of emphasis was placed on the minimum wage. Some argued that this was too high and must be cut, while others suggested that to cut the people who were on the lowest pay scale was unjust. Regardless of the arguments, in the end the minimum wage was cut. But will this really make a big difference for Ireland’s competitiveness? Are we now more attractive than we were before to large multi-national companies or to budding Irish entrepreneurs who wish to start a business in Ireland? That depends on whether the only factor which concerns these businesses is wages.
In reality, to a lot of start up businesses or to multi-national firms, factors other than wages also play an important role in deciding whether or not Ireland is a good place to start a business. The cost of rent is an important element which determines value for companies. What difference do slightly lower wages mean if companies can not afford to pay their rent? Another factor is access to credit. This is a particular problem in Ireland with numerous reports suggesting that bank’s willingness to lend money is falling. Finally, what about government stability? The uncertainty generated by Ireland’s inability to balance its budget raises a lot of concern in would be investors.
Therefore, while the reduction in the minimum wage may result in some increase to our competitiveness and attractiveness, there are still a number of other factors which must be addressed. The high costs of commercial rents, the inability to access money through business loans and the uncertainty in Ireland are all combining to have a negative impact on our competitiveness, and a slight reduction in the minimum wage is not going to be sufficient to balance this out.