Last Monday the rate of the Living Wage rose to £7.85 an hour, and at the same time research revealed that more than a fifth of UK workers still earn less than the previous figure of £7.65 an hour. Despite the fact that hundreds of employers have already signed up to the Living Wage more than 5 million people are still not paid at a level which will provide a basic but acceptable standard of living.
Amongst those worst affected are bar staff, sales & retail assistants and waiters & waitresses.
Despite what opponents claim, paying a Living Wage is good for business as it reduces absenteeism, enhances the quality of staff work and saves money on recruitment. It also makes employees more willing to make changes to their own working practices.
If we want to live in a more equal society then low pay must be tackled. An incoming Labour Government next year will take steps to encourage, support and incentivise employers to adopt the Living Wage. This will not only mean better pay for thousands of workers, it will also save the taxpayer money by reducing expenditure on in-work benefits.
However the rise in consumer activism means that we can all play a part in ensuring our fellow citizens are decently paid. In recent years we have seen successful campaigns to encourage and promote Fairtrade goods produced in developing countries. Closer to home Bristol has a strong tradition of supporting local independent stores.
On the High Street it is now quite normal to buy Fairtrade coffee and many retailers have ethical supply chain policies. But often this does not appear to extend to their own lowest paid employees.
According to the Fairtrade Foundation, in order to be certified Fairtrade, producers who are not already paying the local living wage must ensure “annual increases on workers’ real wages towards living wage”. This is only right.
Isn’t it also time that those shops, bars and cafes which support and sell Fairtrade goods start paying their staff the Living Wage too?
So the next time you pop into a coffee shop or a café bar spare a thought for the hard pressed person who serves you your cappuccino or latte. Are they being paid the Living Wage? Would you be prepared to pay a few extra pence if they were?
We should all seek out accredited Living Wage Employers in the same way we do for other ethical labels, and support those companies that pay their staff a decent wage.
This first appeared in the Bristol Post 11 November 2014