Opening Bell: Gender pay gap, the price of stamps, Britain's Brexit budget

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An Post has told the Government that it will not be meets its €10 million weekly wage bill in April unless it can immediately increase the price of stamps.

It would see a basic stamp, which currently costs 72 cents, be priced at more than €1, in line with the European average.

An Post chief executive David McRedmond told The Irish Times on Tuesday night that "a price increase is an essential measure for the company".

Legislation abolishing a cap on the price of stamps passed through the Seanad last night and should be signed into law by President Michael D Higgins this week.

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The Irish Congress of Trade Unions is calling for a series of new and concrete measures to tackle what it says is the ongoing gender pay gap.

It comes as new figures from the EU Commission show that Ireland has failed to close the gap over recent years.

Congress equality officer David Joyce says there's been little progress since 2010:

"We have a persistent gender pay gap, the latest figure is 13.9%. The EU average is 16.3%. neither figure shows much sign of shifting. And I suppose what we're saying is that if we continue to do what we've always been ding, it won't change. So what we're looking for is a much more imaginative approach to dealing with the issue."

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Irish builders merchanting group Grafton still has its sights set on European expansion, after reporting record revenue of £2.5bn (€2.88bn) for 2016.

It also confirmed a 12% leap in adjusted operating profits to £142m (€164m) on Tuesday.

Chief executive Gavin Shark told the Irish Independent that it improving its footprint on the continent was "very much part of the plan" despite the group selling its two Polish outlets.

He said:

"Even if you decided Poland was a great place to expand, our business in Poland wasn't the right starting point for that. The right thing to do was to sell that business. It just takes away a management distraction of two branches in quite a remote location and we can focus on the businesses that are closer to home."

Grafton will open three new Chadwicks Expresss outlets at home in 2017 to capitalise on the uptick in construction around Dublin, with more to follow depending on performance.

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It's Budget Day for Britain, with UK Chancellor Philip Hammond unlikely to offer taxpayers much of a giveaway as he outlines the economic plans for Brexit.

Hammond will say he's ready to take further "difficult decisions" on tax rises and spending cuts to balance the books, but that he'll promise to do everything he can to help ordinary working families.

Economic advisor Ruth Lea doesn't think there'll be any surprises:

"There aren't going to be many rabbits out of the hat, quite honestly. I think he's going to continue basically with austerity. And I think he's made that fairly clear.

"He's said there's no room for spending sprees. We have a public sector debt that is £1.7 trillion, which is absolutely eye-watering."