TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady joined Ritzy cinema workers on a picket line in Brixton, in June 2014. BECTU members went on strike over Picturehouse Cinemas' refusal to pay Ritzy Cinema staff the London Living Wage. Photo © Jess Hurd/reportdigital.co.uk
Where does the Living Wage fit in trade union strategies?
Many unions see the Living Wage as a useful standard that they can use in collective bargaining. So, for example, a claim may say something like “we want a 3 per cent increase, but staff on the bottom grade will have their pay increased to the Living Wage”. A similar kind of approach has been used in the current local government pay claim*. Alternatively it might be solely a campaign to get a group of low paid workers paid a living wage, as in a recent strike by Ritzy cinema workers in Brixton.
The campaign for the Living Wage is now firmly ensconced in the broad hierarchy of trade union demands, which run as follows:
- raise the statutory National Minimum Wage (NMW) as high as possible and strongly enforce it;
- get employers to pay the living wage wherever this can be achieved (some also campaign for the living wage to be the NMW); and
- get a strong pay rise for the 80 per cent of members who earn more than the living wage. People earning £10 or £12 per hour also suffer if their pay is frozen or lags behind inflation.
The emphasis varies for different unions. The shop workers’ union USDAW has achieved rates that are close to the Living Wage in many of their deals but no major retail chain has yet adopted it. At the other end of the scale, professional unions representing teachers and scientists simply have no members paid below the Living Wage.
Understandably, the most interest comes from the large general unions – Unite, UNISON and the GMB, who have direct contact with a range of low paid workers and achieve a wide range of bottom pay rates in their agreements. In addition, the rail union RMT campaigns for the Living Wage for its members who are cleaners and the communication workers union (CWU) campaigns for agency workers in the postal service and other groups. This list is not exhaustive.
All of these unions have had some successes in winning the Living Wage for their members. The idea of moving up to the living wage is understandably very popular and can be a strong recruiting tool.
Unions will be arguing the case in a robust way during Living Wage Week (3-9 November), when the Mayor of London and Ed Miliband, will announce the new rates. Unions will join politicians and business leaders in a programme of events around the country including rallies, debates, business briefings and media activity
Unions are absolutely clear why we need to campaign on this issue, but the last word should really go to a worker who has benefited from the Living Wage:
“Before, I had to work two jobs just to put food on the table and pay the rent. I had no time for my family or my community. When the Living Wage was introduced I was able to prioritise the one job, which has meant I’ve been able to be there for my family and set up a youth group in my community. What I’ve been given, I’m now able to give back.” – Amin Hussein, cleaner and youth worker.
* The local government claim is actually for a flat rate – “a minimum increase of £1 an hour on scale point 5 to achieve the living wage and the same flat rate increase on all other scale points.” See the Unison website for further details.
Paul has contributed a blog as part of Living Wage Week, a UK-wide celebration of the Living Wage and Living Wage Employers. Living Wage Week takes place each November running from 2nd – 8th November this year.