The Utility of Work


From top: Commuters in Dublin; Dan Boyle

The most recent unemployment statistics saw a return to the type of figures that existed pre 2008. That in itself is very welcome. I don’t hold with the view that these statistics are somehow contrived, or are laced with political spin.

The Central Statistics Office is a credible, neutral organisation. Its presentation of data has to conform with Eurostat rules. The trend is that more people are engaged in positions of employment.

Despite that, what we measure in relation to work, is often deficient.

We measure the number of work positions but not specifically the number of man hours worked. There is little precise information on the amount of wages accurately being paid. There is no measurement being taken on the degree of job security that exists.

Significant groups of people are not include in these statistics – students, those engaged in employment schemes, and many thousands who are in receipt of pre-retirement dole.

Against that, the way employment data is collected is very wide, but it isn’t particularly deep. The statistics cover the age range 15 years to 74. This includes some meant to be in full time education, and others who otherwise should be well ensconced in retirement.

42,000 people, year on year, have acquired employment that previously was beyond them. That is welcome. When we look at secondary sources of information, the implication created by this movement, isn’t necessarily that rosy.

When we look at income taxes receipts, a different picture starts to emerge. Year on year these have increased by €82 million. This gives an average tax liability of under €2000 for each new entrant to the workforce. This abstracts to average wages that would be somewhat under the average industrial wage.

If we had access to the wage increases given to those already in the workforce, this would further reduce the figure we could attach to what average wage new workers are receiving.

Further proof is the disconnect that is occurring, since the start of this year, between income tax receipts and universal social charge receipts. USC receipts are increasing at a far slower pace than those of income tax.

Because of the income threshold that applies before payment of USC is required, we can surmise that many of the new jobs being created, must be paying wages in or around this threshold.

One CSO statistic we should question is the assertion that wages in the public sector are considerability higher than those in the private sector. The CSO admits that no accepted international comparator for this statistic exists.

There are many factors that distort direct comparison. There are very few part time jobs in the public sector. Invariably these are mostly found in the private sector.

What we can work out is that many of the new jobs created are part time, low paying, and are lacking in security. If we are honest with ourselves, we should admit that this glass isn’t even yet half full.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle


21 thoughts on “The Utility of Work

  1. Kdoc1

    Not only are they low paying and insecure, but many are also mind-numbingly boring as is the case in many call centres. Most workers today no longer toil in grease stained overalls, but their working conditions are far more monotonous than the production lines of old; the latter could at least throw a spanner in the works. In contrast, the call centre employee is closely monitored electronically and physically through the entire working day.

    1. Rob_G

      These jobs have to be worked by someone.

      I worked in a couple of call centres (mercifully briefly) as a student. I appreciated the cash, and realised that, without an education, there was a good chance that I could end up working jobs like this for the rest of my life, and ended up applying myself that bit more to my studies as a result.

      1. ivan

        absolutely Rob, but the endgame of that – taken to it’s logical conclusion – is that not EVERYBODY can go to college and get that education, because, frankly, whilst it’s all very well to be a nation of organ-grinders, you still need the monkeys. (that’s a horrible phrase, but you get where i’m coming from)

        It is rather depressing (and i’m not saying it’s unique to Ireland) that a significant amount of jobs are tedium defined, and always will be. If suddenly *everybody* in a call centre said ‘sod this for a game of cowboys’ and signed up to do a college course, there still aren’t the jobs out of the call centres, y’know? Some will still find their way back.

        1. Kdoc1

          From my experience, quite a few working in call centres have a third level education. I suppose it depends on what they studied. Many arts degrees might leave an individual sitting frustrated in a call centre cubicle for their working life.

        2. Rob_G

          I get your point, and university isn’t for everyone. But if someone works in a call centre and finds the job unfulfilling and aren’t interested in university, there is nothing stopping them to rise to be a team leader or manager, which they might find more stimulating, will give the broader skills, better pay, etc.

      2. On The Buses

        Rob_G you are what I like to call a ‘Weasel Rat’. You are a weasel that happily facilitates the Rat Agenda.

      3. Harry Molloy

        I began working in a call centre when I had two degrees and 6 months on the dole in 2011.

        It was crap but took my career in a new direction, left the company after 9 months but wouldn’t have had the opportunity without that job. And am doing OK now.

        No one should look down their nose at any job, potential employers certainly won’t.

        1. Janet, I ate my avatar

          +1 honest work is honest work
          part of the problem is a snobbish attitude to a good days work
          there’s no shame in hard work whatever it is

        2. Owen C

          I think its bizarre to suggest that most people should be able to get jobs that they will find exciting and intellectually fulfilling. There has been and always will be a need for what are by and large ‘menial’ jobs – low or unskilled manufacturing line employment that would have existed previously has been replaced by the service industry equivalent. Further, not everyone wants or expects this intellectual fulfillment – lots of people simply do a job to make a living and live out their dreams outside of the workplace. I’m sure there’s lot of people in “intellectually challenging” jobs such as finance or law or public sector administration who hate their jobs, its not just call centre workers who face this issue.

          1. Harry Molloy

            I figured out long ago that there’s no such thing as a dream job for me, I’m happy enough with a job I don’t hate and colleagues I like.

            Some people are fortunate enough to be in jobs they’re truly passionate about, and I envy them, but it’s not going to be the case for everyone.

          2. Kdoc1

            I agree that there are people in intellectually challenging jobs who would prefer to have a different career. They are, however, usually well rewarded financially and they are unlikely to suffer the level of stress experienced by call centre agents. Stress can be defined as the environment one finds themselves in and how one reacts to that environment. The endless flow of calls, the embedded electronic supervision systems that monitor every second of the working day, the knowledge that every word uttered is recorded and the lack of autonomy leads to stress.
            If anyone needs a menial job I would suggest some form of physical labour where there may be some individual control over their circumstances and less mental stress..

  2. Sheik Yahbouti

    For what it’s worth, neither ourselves or the British (whom we ape) have ever followed Germany in their excellent apprenticeship schemes. The Germans recognized a long time ago that not everyone can achieve academic excellence. Practical people to do the actual work are as needed as they ever have been. Couldn’t we alter the focus a little to bring fulfilling employment to our young people?

  3. Cian

    “When we look at income taxes receipts, a different picture starts to emerge. Year on year these have increased by €82 million. This gives an average tax liability of under €2000 for each new entrant to the workforce”
    if you divide €82million by 42,000 you get €1952 each. But where did you get 82million?- isn’t that the *monthly* increase in Direct Tax?
    [This show that June 2017 Income Tax was €87m more than June 2016

    Basically if you’re saying that the 42,000 new people are contributing €1,952 tax PER MONTH – so are earning €80,000+ happy days indeed.

    1. Cian

      …Or to put it another way, the numbers employed is up 2.1%, but the Income Tax is up either 2.5% (€187 million) in year-on-year terms [or 3.9% on an adjusted basis (i.e. excluding one-offs in 2016)].

      We’re getting more income tax per person. Note: the income tax rates and thresholds didn’t change this year.

      1. Dan Boyle

        No I didn’t aggregate the months but I didn’t aggregate the number of new taxpayers either. This figure would included those who gained jobs before July 2016, who would have been new taxpayers ion this period as well.

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