Monday, November 05, 2012

Living Wage: work in progress

The publicity received yesteday is most welcome by those who have campaigned for a living wage, however the Labour Party support does seem to come with some confusion, stating that the National Minimum Wage is the basic minimum and Living Wage is that little bit more. The Living Wage(LW) and the London Living wage (LLW) are based on a calculation of what is the minimum income needed to meet basic needs – it is the basic minimum. The National minimum wage at £6.19 remains well below the Living Wage. The Living wage and the London Living wage both increased yesterday by 25p to £7.45 and £8.55.

However with the Labour party announcement of support for living wage has suddenly seen a number of Labour councils who previously had very little interest in the Living wage suddenly declared themselves a living wage employers and some seem to have rather hastily been accredited by the Living Wage Foundation.

Accreditation is based on employers not only paying its own directly employed staff the Living wage but also contracted staff. No council as far as I am aware has fully complied with this as yet, however credit is due to the likes of Islington Council who have now signed up 80% of their contractors to LLW and brought back in house cleaners so they get more the LLW and are doing the same with waste. Islington accreditation is based on the fact that it had made good progress with it contractors and agreed be fully compliant by 2014 and the local unions were fully involved in the process.

However you do not have to go far to find a different story neighbouring borough Camden who had shown no real interest in LLW despite attempt by the UNISON to get them to do so. However they have now declared themselves a living wage employer been accredited and now flying the Living wage flag this week for living wage week. They have been accreditations on the basis of achieving this in 4 years, my fear is hasty accreditations could not only appear opportunist but will undermine work done elsewhere.

Being living wage employer is not just some badge of honour or a bandwagon to leap on, but rather about ensuring a reasonable standard of living for workers and their families.

Our employers could be accused of giving with one hand while bashing us over the head with the other. Not only has no Labour council as yet stood up and refused to implement the cuts which have led to many UNISON members being made redundant. Some councils of them have even more actively attacked terms and condition from sick pay, annual leave and refusing increments also going down the road of privatisation or increase number of part time jobs. The danger is the living wage may also be seen as the maximum wage as well as the minimum and not as should be as the absolute minimum wage paid by a responsible employer.

Turning to the Labour Leadership who have made it clear they are happy to continue to see a the pay cut to public sector workforce not only continue but deepen in real terms and Ed Milliband even argued a few months ago that an actual cut in pay would in some case be reasonable action of a public sector employer. Of cause not forgetting the Labour front benches support on the attack on our pensions which is after all just deferred pay.

I also note our General Secretary Dave Prentis felt the need to write an article on the living wage with leading progress MP Dave Miliband (maybe he forgot what he said a about progress recently) which seemed to give the agenda unsurprising of the labour party right on privatisation of public services, it ok they privatise just do it a bit more nicely!!.

Back to the Living wage, once again the campaign has been taken forward in huge leaps and bounds from it starting place in east London, but as trade unionists we must not take claims at face value we must monitor scrutinise and if necessary expose them if commitments and promises are not met, or if we find workers suffering as a result of poor terms and conditions instead. In additions campaigns like London Citizens and its sister group the Living Wage Foundation must insist on trade union involvement with any employer before engaging in discussion about becoming a living wage employer

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