Sustained and growing societal income and wage divides, combined with evidence of a polarising labour market, have brought greater attention to the concept of a living wage. Although missing from the socio-economic discourse for much of the twentieth century, it has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years. In principle, such a wage is intended to establish an hourly wage rate that should provide employees with sufficient income to achieve an agreed acceptable minimum standard of living. In that sense it is an income floor; representing a figure which allows low-paid employees afford the essentials of life.
A discussion on this issue has recently commenced in Ireland. Central to it will be the establishment of a widely accepted and sustainable mechanism for estimating and updating a living wage value. However, the implementation of a living wage also raises issues regarding its impact on different actors in society (employees, employers, civil society and the state). Similarly, successful implementation faces a number of challenges.
This paper considers some of these impacts and challenges, based on the experiences of living wage programmes elsewhere. In doing so, it points towards issues that need to be considered and addressed as any living wage initiative in Ireland commences.