Fair Pay Fortnight (16 February to 1 March) is a campaign from Britain's unions, calling for a fairer approach to wages across the board, from the poverty pay that's rife in many sectors, up to soar-away top executives' pay. Last week, David Cameron told business leaders that with the economy ‘recovering’ it was time for companies to “pass on the good economic news to their workers”. Now this could be seen as a bit rich coming from a Prime Minister whose time in government has seen years of pay freezes for their own employees in the public sector and an explosion of low paid zero hours contracts in the wider economy. Nevertheless, it’s certainly true that employers can do a lot more to step up and stump up.
The Minimum Wage and Living Wage are not the same thing
With inflation outstripping stagnating wages, the National Minimum Wage still lags £1.35 an hour (or £2.65 in London) behind the Living Wage, which is a voluntary standard determined by the Living Wage Foundation. The Living Wage looks at the minimum needed to cover the essentials in Britain today, and escape in-work poverty. On the other hand the Minimum Wage is just that, it’s the minimum you can pay people for their work without actually breaking the law. Yet employers continue to grow profits while keeping their workers stuck on or close to the Minimum Wage. Just because it’s legal, it doesn’t make it fair. With a strengthening pound and plunging oil prices already reducing business costs further, it’s indefensible for any company that can afford more to keep paying its workers poverty wages.
Talk is easy, but action is effective.
We’re hardly expecting a sea-change in corporate behaviour in the wake of the Prime Minister’s soundbite. But the good news is that well-organised workers and their unions are managing to win important pay deals, sometimes from even the most resistant employers. If you are struggling with poor pay in your workplace and want to take matters into your own hands, you may take inspiration from the example of workers at Picturehouse's Ritzy Cinema in Brixton, who worked with their union BECTU, and the backing of local cinema-goers, to negotiate a significant increase from their very low basic wages. BECTU are working now to extend the campaign for fairer pay to other Picturehouse cinemas nationwide, where workers are still getting a raw deal, as the employer won’t deal with the union outside the one branch where they currently recognise them. With Conservative manifesto pledges to limit union rights should they form the next government, there’s never been a more important time for us all to stand together and be counted. This is also a great example of how union activity and consumer pressure can achieve great results together. That means we can all get involved in a just cause whether it affects us directly or indirectly. And it can only give confidence to workers and unions elsewhere to take their pay claims to their bosses, knowing they may be able to count on friends in all sorts of places. Who knows, next time, it could be you!