A survey of pay and conditions at small companies carried out by the Small Firms Association has found that just under half of firms cut their pay bill last year.

The average fall in the pay bill at these companies was just under 20%. A third of the 1,195 companies surveyed kept their total pay bill at the same level. 43% of companies cut their workforce, while 41% maintained it at the same level.

25% of companies expect to lower their total pay bill this year - with an average cut of almost 14% - with 47% maintaining it at current levels. 18% of firms surveyed expect to reduce employee numbers, with 56% maintaining them at existing levels.

The SFA survey also found that almost half of workers employed in the firms surveyed were on a rate of under €35,000 a year, with 11% below €25,000. The SFA said the rate of pay for entry-level grades decreased in almost all job categories.

The lowest rate paid for any job category was that of a cleaner - an average of €365.10 a week. The SFA said this was 9% higher than the national minimum wage.

The survey showed that 67% of the businesses had sick pay, 60% pension schemes, 43% health insurance schemes and 78% of employers contributed to health insurance.