Living wage ‘a disaster’ for low paid workers

By Ian Hodson, National President

The recent introduction of the Tory ‘living wage’ has been a disaster for many low paid workers. Figures from the Low Pay Commission suggest that nearly half of all low paid jobs are in two sectors; wholesale/retail and hotels/restaurants.

The Tory fanfare of “Britain Needs a Pay Rise”; a slogan stolen from the TUC, turned out to be little more than a gimmick with the ultimate insult being that it was launched on April Fool’s Day.

The introduction of the ‘living wage’ has resulted in a further widening of inequality in workplaces, with workers below the age of 25 being paid less and in many cases, other workers having their overtime, shift premium and bank holiday payments slashed in order to fund a paltry increase. As a result of this, our Union has seen strikes across the 2 Sisters Food Group, with a potentially more to come.

Our Union has been trying to organise workers at Samworth Brothers; a company which recently hit the news after they were accused of slashing employees’ terms and conditions in order to pay for the cost of the new increased ‘national living wage’.

Many other workers are telling us how the changes are impacting on them. In nearly all cases, workers are looking at losses of between £1,500 -£5000 a year. But it’s not just food manufacturing that’s being hit. A whole series of major high street chains have slashed their already hard pressed workers’ terms and conditions to fund this Tory gimmick.

The living wage is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK. This is what is needed to be able to simply exist; not necessarily what is needed in order to live comfortably. According to the Organisation For Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Britain now has the second highest rate of low pay, and in some cases twice the rate of low pay, compared to other advanced countries.

In Britain, it has become acceptable for people to have to do two or three different jobs in order to put food on the table. A young woman I met who works in Poundland, starts work at 7am finishes at 5pm and then does a cleaning job from 5.30pm before working in a restaurant for three hours or more for six or sometimes seven days a week.

That's just so she can pay her rent, council tax and fuel bills. She still struggles to pay for transport to and from work. When I asked what she does away from work, she said that she sometimes gets a bottle of wine and has friends round, as going out is too expensive a ‘treat’. This is how many young workers are living today.

What has also become apparent to us whilst we have been campaigning across the fast food sector, is the link between low pay/ job insecurity and mental health. We have been told about young people not being able to earn enough in order to do the things that young people should be able to do, such as enjoying the odd night out and buying new clothes.

This inequality and job insecurity is hamstringing their ability to make and build new relationships, develop social skills and grow their self-esteem and confidence. Employers have lost their connection with our communities and no longer seem to recognise the important, moral role they are supposed to play in society.

It’s now profit that leads the way, and as long as the shareholders, CEO’s and Managing Directors are happy, the rest of us can go and ‘fizzle’. It’s a damning indictment that workers and Trade Unions have to stick their heads above the parapet and be demonised, simply for making the call for a minimum wage of £10 an hour that doesn’t exclude young people and an end to the despicable exploitation of zero hours contracts.

Our Glasgow branch of BFAWU members from the fast-food industry organised a recruitment drive with some top bands, comedians and a personal message from Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell.

The event was very well attended and everyone signed up to the campaign for an end to the youth rate and the call for £10 an hour and Trade Unions rights. The evening included workers finding out more about how Unions work and how by working together, we can change our communities and improve our lives.

We will be holding more events organised by our members, building our Union and giving a platform for working people to come together and build a fairer more inclusive society.
People both young and not so young, are facing difficult times with the government-led agenda of slashing rights and restrictions in the workplace, allowing huge rent rises and ever spiralling transport and food costs, along with stagnating wages.

This agenda isn’t economic necessity, it’s a political choice. There is a sense that people are beginning to realise this and are slowly starting to rally against it. They are finally waking up to the fact that many politicians are bankrolled by big business and have only their interests at heart.

People are witnessing their public services being stripped to the bone and their terms and conditions being slashed whilst seeing big corporations avoid tax and disgraced CEOs avoid the dock.

It never ceases to amaze me that the ‘difficult decisions’ politicians make never affect these people. Let's put the blame where it belongs; not migrants, not the disabled and not the unemployed. Let’s stop allowing the media to brainwash us into attacking the easy targets, and let’s instead blame the politicians whose decisions are having a detrimental effect on those at the bottom end of the pay-scale and are allowing the real villains of the piece to get away with murder.

Don’t be divided by the prejudices of the 1%; our unity frightens the life out of them.