Like the euphoria which accompanies a gold rush, union leaders are staking their claims for pay rises.

After the Labour Court sanctioned a €50 million pay increase for the gardaí, the resolve which has been restraining wages is suddenly unravelling.

One of the justifications for wage increases put forward by trade unions is that the cost of living has increased. 

So is this true?

Not really, is the answer.  

Certainly some costs have risen but in general inflation has dropped over the past 12 months.

The Central Statistics Office checks 53,000 prices in 84 locations across Ireland every month to measure the costs of goods and services.

It attaches a weighting to purchases so it reflects household expenditure.

Its latest release for the 12 months to the end of October shows costs have fallen by 0.3%.

When one thinks about some of the key spending made by consumers every week, high on the list are food and fuel.

Both have fallen. Food and non-alcoholic drinks fell by 2.2%, petrol is down 1.7% and diesel 0.5%.

Clothing dropped 2.6%.

So why are workers in the public and private sectors agitating for pay increases?

The enormous pressure point for many workers has been the dramatic escalation in rent, which has been rising at an annual rate of 10%.

The price of buying a home, which is rising at 7.3%, does not figure in inflation data as it is not a regular purchase – instead the CSO’s inflation information looks at mortgage interest. It shows a 0.4% drop over the past year.

European Central Bank interest rates have been on the floor and are currently at 0.25%.

This is great news for people lucky enough to be on tracker loans. People on standard variable rate mortgages have been paying much higher rates, although some of these have dropped too.

Childcare is up over the past year but only by 2.4%. However, for parents of young children it can still consume a considerable proportion of their disposable income.

Motor insurance has been rocketing recently with premiums increasing by 30%. However, latest figures show the rise has moderated and is running at 8%. But the increase has been considerable for many families.

So if the basket of goods and services consumers purchase is not rising why are so many workers seeking pay rises?

One factor is because personal taxes are still high.

Despite minor reductions in the Universal Social Charge in the Budget Irish workers enter pay elevated rates of tax at relatively low wages.

Workers on the average wages enter the highest rate of tax at €33,000. Those earning more than €70,000 pay more than 50% in tax.

In Spain the 52% rate of tax applies on income over €300,000. The entry point to begin paying 50% income tax in Finland is €100,000 and Portugal it is €80,000.

So increasing costs may not really be the cause of the demands for pay increases. In reality it may be caused by how much disposable income workers are left with when they pay tax.

Comment via twitter @davidmurphyRTE