Tuesday, 14 January 2014

No Living Wage for North Somerset Council and Schools Staff

This was issued as a press release today:

North Somerset UNISON, which represents workers at North Somerset Council and Schools across the district is very disappointed that the council will not implement the living wage for all council and schools staff. In February last year we asked the council to set up a working group to look at the costs and benefits of paying the living wage to council and schools staff, and we were pleased that they agreed to our request. A Living Wage working group was established and met for the first time over the summer last year, and then a few times after that. The working group has recently produced a report which will be considered by the council's Community and Corporate Organisation Policy & Scrutiny Panel on 21st January. Very sadly although the working group has recognised the moral case for paying the living wage it has recommended that it is not implemented at the present time for financial reasons.

We recognise the difficult financial position that the council faces at this current time - local government funding has been slashed, although budgets for schools have been relatively protected. But the lowest rate of Local Government and Schools pay is currently £6.45 an hour - only pence above the National Minimum Wage - currently £6.31 an hour. If local government pay had just kept up with inflation since 2010, those at the bottom of the pay scale would now be earning £7.53 an hour - just a few pence below the current living wage of £7.65 an hour. But local government workers had their pay frozen for three years from 2010, broken by a 1% pay increase in the current year. There are currently 785 permanent and 259 casual North Somerset Council and Schools staff who earn below the Living Wage - this is almost 20% of the council and schools entire workforce, the vast majority of whom are women. This should be a huge source of shame to North Somerset Council. These workers are our School Crossing Patrols, School Lunchbreak Supervisors, Cleaners, Passenger Assistants, and Mobile Meals Helpers. All those workers earning below the living wage, including local government workers, are relying on tax credits and other benefits to supplement their income. Increasing their pay to the living wage results in savings to the benefits bill, as well as increased National Insurance contributions and taxes. Increased money coming into the Treasury would potentially mean less cuts to local government funding. We are the seventh richest country in the world, and yet low pay is such a big issue that of all the children living in poverty, over half of them live in working households. Increasing wages should therefore be of great interest to North Somerset Schools and Children's Services.

It is UNISON's view that increasing the wages of the lowest paid council and schools' workers is affordable. Every year since 2010 North Somerset Council has put more and more money into its reserves - they have increased from £6.3 million to a predicted £9.1 million at the end of March 2014. At the same time - between 2010 and 2013 - North Somerset Council has also underspent on its budget for staff salaries by £2.5 million and this money has been added to the council’s reserves. In comparison the cost of raising the pay of those council and schools workers who earn below the living wage would be £435,000 - this is most definitely affordable. In addition if the council paid its staff the living wage, it would be in a good position to encourage employers across North Somerset to pay their staff the living wage, with the consequent benefits for the local economy in terms of increased spending in local businesses, and ultimately increased business rates for the council. Nationally, parties of all political colours are looking at significantly increasing the National Minimum Wage. Even John Cridland, the Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry has called for an increase to the minimum wage, and the Low Pay Commission will make its recommendations on raising the minimum wage next month – possibly bringing it close to the £7 an hour mark. As a result we think that the council and schools will find themselves increasingly in a position where they will be forced to increase wages for the lowest paid staff. It is a great sadness to us that they have had an opportunity to do this voluntarily through the Living Wage working group, but have chosen not to pay the living wage, which after all is simply the minimum income people need in order to provide for basics such as food, clothes and shelter.

The full report and 3 Appendices for the Living Wage Working group can be found at:

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