Eilis Quinlan of ISME has been at it again. On the Last Word on Today FM this evening, she again said that it was a mistake to say the public sector pension levy was a pay cut. The key argument she produced as to why the reduction in net take home pay related to the levy was a pension contribution rather than a pay cut was that it was tax deductible, just like other pension contributions.
Let’s think about this for a second. Consider a worker on €50,000 facing a 20% marginal tax rate. Now the government introduces a pension levy that see her gross pay reduce by €3,000. The pension levy isn’t taxed, so the worker now has a taxable income of €47,000. Consider the alternative in which her pay is cut by €3,000. In this case, the worker also has taxable income of €47,000.
So, in either case, whether it’s a pay cut or a “tax deductible” pension contribution, the worker has the same level of taxable income—the pension levy may be tax deductible but the government also can’t tax salary that a worker hasn’t been paid.
In other words, from the point of view of the worker’s take-home pay, the pension levy is identical to a pay cut. Now, of course, there are reasons why various tax breaks exist to encourage people to make pension contributions: The government wants to encourage people to put additional money aside to build up their pension entitlements. But, of course, the payment of the “pension levy” doesn’t add a cent to public sector worker’s pension entitlements.
To recap, the fact that the pension levy was tax deductible doesn’t make it different from a pay cut. It makes it exactly like a pay cut. And the fact that it doesn’t add to pension entitlements means that it has all the features of a pay cut and none of the features of a pension contribution.
To be honest, I don’t see how it serves the interests of the hard-pressed small and medium-sized businesses of Ireland to have the Chairman of their representative organisation continually making provative and misleading statements that only serve to upset thousands of public sector workers that have experienced very significant losses in take-home pay.