November 3, 2014 : Jenny Bloomfield

More employers must pledge to pay the living wage

Increases in the living wage would have more of an impact if more employers were committed to paying it. Our sector has a role to play in leading the living wage revolution.

Today the living wage was increased to £7.85 an hour. But will this translate into higher wages for people here in Scotland?

We had a phone call the other day from a journalist wanting to know whether, hypothetically speaking, a charity had to close down because it was being forced to pay the living wage and couldn’t afford to, that would change our views on the importance of paying the living wage.  Our response was no.  Everyone should be valued for the work that they do and the contribution they bring to society – and in the world of paid work, that includes being paid a decent wage.  Minimum wage is not a decent wage – the living wage is.

When the Procurement Reform Bill was going through parliament, we argued that the living wage should be part of the Bill, with all public contracts forced to pay the living wage.  Sadly, MSPs ran scared – hiding behind the excuse that their hands were tied by EU restrictions. However, at the same time down in England some councils managed to overcome financial, legal and logistical obstacles and implement the living wage – proving that where there’s a will there’s a way.  But for now, in Scotland, we’ve missed our chance to build this into legislation.

Of course in the third sector, much of the problem lies in councils not paying sufficient money in contracts to enable charities to pay a living wage.  Only last week, the trade union Unison found that 94% of councils in England and Wales did not ensure that the contracts they gave to care providers included enough money to cover workers’ transport time – and I doubt that’s much different here.  This means that many employees are paid less than minimum wage, let alone the living wage, as they aren’t paid for the travel time it takes them to go from one home visit to the next.  It’s clear, then, that on the issue of paying a decent wage, we have far to go.

So what’s to be done?

  • One, the minimum wage should be increased much more, something I have written about before.
  • Two, councils must pay enough in contracts so that workers who fulfil those contracts can be paid a decent wage.
  • Three, Scottish Government should use the new EU Directive on Public Procurement to make payment of the living wage a plus point when considering tenders (I’m sure they can wangle that in somehow – maybe as part of the positive effect the living wage could have on ‘disadvantaged persons’– hello, EU jargon!).
  • And finally, the third sector must look to itself to lead from the front and become the sector of living wage employers.
Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Jenny Bloomfield