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Ex-banker defends Low Pay role

Published 14/04/2015

The Low Pay Commission has to report to the Government by July 15
The Low Pay Commission has to report to the Government by July 15

A former banker charged by the government with setting Ireland's minimum wage has defended his role despite never having been in a low-paid job.

Donal de Buitleir, head of the Low Pay Commission, said he lives a privileged life in a "middle class ghetto" but has exposed himself to "how the other half lives," including during charity work in the 1980s.

Before a parliamentary watchdog, the former AIB boss and senior Revenue official said he also suspected none of the other eight people making up the commission were low paid.

But he told TDs and senators that it wasn't necessary to experience a problem in order to help fix it.

"I know members of my family, my extended family, have been on low pay," he said.

"So just because I haven't personally, because I have had the opportunity of an education and worked hard, I was able to get well paid employment throughout my life.

"Even after I retired I'm still very active."

Mr de Buitleir, who was also a director of the Health Services Executive for four years, said that when he finished studying in 1980 he sought out work on the board of directors of a homeless organisation in Dublin, The Tabor Society.

"I thought it was important for someone like me who has had a very privileged life to have some exposure," he told the Oireachtas committee on jobs, enterprise and innovation, which was cross-examining him on his new role.

"I live in a middle class ghetto, you can easily cut yourself off from the problems of society.

"I think it is really important to expose yourself to see how the other half lives, if I can put it that way."

Mr de Buitleir said he found it an extremely valuable experience for the years he was working at the charity, which later became part of the Peter McVerry Trust.

"I used to go down to the inner city eight or nine times a year for a board meeting in the house," he said.

"You saw how the problems there impacted on ordinary people."

Mr de Buitleir said the Low Pay Commission, which has to report to the Government by July 15, was widely representative and was seeking opinions from a range of people.

However, it would not look at zero-hour contracts, as that was being addressed in a separate report by the University of Limerick, expected in August, he told the watchdog.

Employment minister Ged Nash appointed Mr de Buitleir as chairman of the nine-strong commission last year. It has a half a million euro annual budget.

Mr Nash said it will take the politics out of the minimum wage and will have the power to examine other low-pay issues.

Members include Vincent Jennings, chief executive of Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association, Patricia King, of Siptu, Gerry Light, of trade union Mandate and Caroline McEnery, director of human resources consultancy HR Suite.

Tom Noonan, chief executive of The Maxol Group, Edel McGinley, of the Migrant Rights Centre, economics lecturer Mary Mosse and Professor Donal O'Neill of NUI Maynooth are also on the commission.

Mr de Buitleir said the commission has so far received 46 submissions as part of a public consultation on low pay - 13 from individuals and another 33 from organisations.

The national minimum wage is currently 8.65 euro an hour.

Up until the setting up of the commission, it could be changed following a recommendation in a national agreement, a recommendation by the Labour Court or directly by the Employment Minister.

Mr de Buitleir is a former head of tax and general manager at the chief executive's office at AIB and was formerly assistant secretary of the Revenue Commissioners.

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